Lesson From Japanese Tsunami: Preparedness Pays Off

The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March killed 16,000 people. It could have been worse.

About 73 percent of the land in Japan is uninhabitable, John Madden, director Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said Friday morning. That means about 127 million are concentrated on about 27 percent of the country’s land mass—much of it along the coasts.

“When you look at those numbers, there were thousands more who lived because of their preparedness,” said Madden. Of those who died, 92 percent died from drowning, so the fifth largest earthquake in history killed 1,100 to 1,200 people, he said.

That serves as a powerful lesson: Preparedness pays off.

Madden and Jim Mullen, director of Washington Division of Emergency Management, shared riveting photos of the devastation during their presentation, many showing scenes just after the disaster followed by pictures showing advanced recovery in the same scenes just months later.

“That doesn’t happen by deciding afterward what to do,” Madden said.

Planning and leadership are keys to recovery efforts. “Leadership before the event is as important as leadership after,” said Mullen.

Emergency managers and state policymakers should also recognize the interconnectedness of states and even countries around the world.

It didn’t take long, for instance, for the auto industry to be impacted by the lack of parts flowing from Japan.

Madden offered this example: If a disaster strikes Alaska’s oil fields, Washington would lose 78 percent of oil going to its refineries.

“The effects of a disaster extend far beyond the rubble,” he said. “We could be outside the rubble, not one piece of infrastructure impaired, but a disaster in his state affects the citizens of my state.”