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As everyone by now knows, there was a 8.9 9.0 magnitude earthquake that shook Japan yesterday.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the people there and anyone else impacted by this tragedy.

This earthquake is the 5th strongest earthquake ever recorded by humans. The AP reports “The force of the quake was so strong that it moved the island of Honshu 8 feet to the east, said USGS geophysicist Ken Hudnut. It sped up the Earth’s rotation by 1.6 microseconds, according to NASA.”

To put this quake in perspective, according to Wikipedia (yes, I know that this isn’t the most reliable source, but just work with me here), and quakes of this magnitude only happen once per year or once every 20 years and can cause devistation over an area that covers hundreds or thousands of miles.  The 2010 Haiti earthquake was only a 7.0 quake – weaker than the quake in Sendai by a factor of almost 20.  However, the impacts and damage caused by these two quakes were very, very different.

Why is this?

There are a number of reasons, but most of them center on the fact that the Japanese government has made key investments in technology, set strict building codes, and also takes steps to make sure that it’s citizens know what to do in case of this very situation.

From the NY Times: “These precautions, along with earthquake and tsunami drills that are routine for every Japanese citizen, show why Japan is the best-prepared country in the world for the twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami — practices that undoubtedly saved lives, though the final death toll is unknown.” (

Video from Tokyo shows skyscrapers swaying during the main shock. (h/t Stacey Burns)

What can we learn for this?

1.  Government plays a huge role in making sure it’s citizens are prepared for the things that we don’t know we need to be prepared for or on a scale beyond the ability of any single person – major storms, earthquakes, flooding, medical emergencies, etc.

2.  Investments in research and techology are helpful and needed.  Without this in Japan, the outcome of this earthquake would have been very different.

3.  Don’t take anything for granted.  Be prepared.  Even if you don’t live in an earthquake prone area, there are still tornadoes, flooding, severe weather that you can prepare yourself and your family for.  A little bit of preparation and information can go far in making you able to deal with a situation.

If you can, consider a donation to Doctors without Borders to help with this and other relief efforts.

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