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Japan's Fires, Post Earthquake — Lessons to Learn

The photographs tell the story.

One thing that photographs do is tell a story. Looking at the destruction that followed the most recent Japan earthquake, there were two that stood out to me.

One was the blocks of apparent housing and small businesses that were burned. One of the consequences of an earthquake is fires that can spread quickly through residential areas. The key factor being the lack of water pressure to fight the fires and perhaps the number of fires that were started by the earthquake.

I recall here locally that firefighters were surprised and alarmed about the immediate actions planned by the water district to shut down the water system so it could be inspected. They, of course, were counting on "the white stuff to put on the red stuff." It seems simple, but having those types of conversations before a disaster can be very helpful. Make sure you get your teams and cross-sector folks together to have simplistic "what if" discussions on what their immediate plans are in responding to a disaster.

Back to Japan. One other photo was a building that tipped over to one side. This is an indicator of liquefaction happening that made the soils unstable and unable to support the structure. A soil analysis and engineers need to do due diligence when it comes to building in earthquake zones — which are just about everywhere!
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.