Sunday, 13 March 2011
Learning from the Japanese
Everyone has been talking about the earthquake and tsunami that hit Sendai, Japan on Friday afternoon.
The images have been jaw-dropping, the black waves push inward, taking everything in their path. Homes are completely destroyed and submerged in water, cars and trucks washed away like toys, and people stranded on rooftops.
A relative said to me today that Chinese media were talking about how orderly the Japanese were in reacting to the earthquake and how they dealt with the situation. All escape routes in company buildings are meticulously planned so that meeting points don't clash with neighbouring firms, and how everyone patiently queued to use the payphone as mobile phone service was down. They also quietly waited in line for the grocery store to open, and repair men even apologized for arriving at a home at midnight to help get power back on.
But would that happen in Hong Kong or China? She said people in Hong Kong would be elbowing past everyone else to get to the pay phone and not caring about anyone else. They would be complaining if the repair men came late. In China people would probably wait in line to get into the supermarket and grab everything on the shelves so that there would be nothing left for other people. I joked that they would buy everything in the store and then sell the food and water at marked up prices.
She said the Hong Kong media were saying we have a lot to learn from the Japanese when it comes to dealing with natural disasters.
Earlier I watched a New York Times video in which Andrew Revkin of Dot Earth explains Japan has three attributes -- wealth, technology and motivation. He said most countries have the first two, but not motivation. The Japanese have lived with earthquakes all their lives and so they know how to prepare for them and they know what to do in an earthquake so they try to have seismic buildings and plan for earthquakes. However places like the Pacific Northwest, Oregon in particular are not ready for earthquakes with schools not up to seismic standards but also because the last earthquake was 300 years ago and people think it will not happen to them.
The devastation in Japan looks horrific and it will take a few more days to properly assess the damage that currently can only be seen from helicopters. It makes you wonder if you are not only prepare for an earthquake but mentally prepared to survive days or even weeks before being rescued.
We can only watch but also admire the Japanese for their resilience. They are determined to make their lives normal again and they will.
In the meantime we need to take stock and think about what we would do in an earthquake. Are we ready?