Justice and Public Safety

Japan Catastrophe Should Prompt U.S. to Re-Examine Technology, Policies

The United States’ complex government system makes responding to large-scale disasters arduous.

by / March 16, 2011 0
An aerial view of the damage in Sendai, Japan, from the magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy. U.S. Navy

Every large-scale disaster can cause a re-examination of laws, policies and procedures. The catastrophe in Japan is no exception. The United States’ complex system of state and local government makes responding to large-scale disasters problematic. Therefore, it is appropriate that governments at all levels re-examine how they intend to respond to a catastrophic disaster like the one that Japan is experiencing.

The following are technology issues that need to be addressed in the United States.

Earthquake detection and warning systems — like Japan’s that worked effectively during its latest quake — are still just on the drawing boards in California. The Cascadia Subduction Zone that runs from British Columbia to off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California is a perfect candidate for such a warning system. Because of its extreme length there could be minutes of warning for portions of the quake zone.

The existing tsunami warning system is not currently effective for a quake that is this close to the coast. Having an earthquake detection and warning system tied into the existing tsunami siren warning system would provide a dramatic improvement in warning capabilities and give people a head start on escaping any tsunami generated by a subduction zone quake.

Go to Emergency Management's website to read about additional U.S. policies that should be re-examined.