Earthquakes and Natural Disasters

The Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011

Once again, I have witnessed one of the largest recorded earthquakes of all times. It is interesting comparing the coverage of the Tohoku Quake to the Andoman-Nicobar Quake of 2004. Back in 2004 it took more than a day for networks to start covering the quake and the first grainy videos came to life. Now in 2011, the age of YouTube, we get instant coverage of the quake on most channels and all over the Internet.

One thing that fascinated me was Twitter. Although several high-profile events have been live-blogged on Twitter in the last two years, for me this was the most personal. Those that know me, know of my passion for Earthquakes and how the media covers them as well as the actual mechanics of said quake. Twitter was able to provide a near-instant feed of facts and data about the quake from the moment the shaking stopped.

For the first time, I used my @clubjosh account to retweet and post my thoughts about the quake as it happened. For the first time, I saw a tsunami roar across the land and consume everything in its path. Last night, I saw an explosion at a nuclear power plant almost immediately after it happened.

Something that is great about this quake is that Japan is one of the most monitored countries in the world when it comes to quakes. This is the first mega-thrust quake of this magnitude to be recorded in this detail – moreso than the huge Chile quake last year. The information that is analyzed from this quake will save millions of people in the years to come by changing what we know about building codes and how to respond to quakes of this size.

Also impressive, was the early warning system for cell phones in Japan that let people know some 15-30 seconds before the shaking was about to hit their location. Some people I think would rather not have that data, but personally, I would welcome that knowledge to be able to take cover, make sure I have my shoes on, and a flashlight with me. I hope this is something that the USGS is working on, and one day those of us in California will benefit from it.

Facts from the quake: So far, we know that parts of the Honshu coastline lurched 8 feet in one motion and that the surface rupture was 250 miles x 100 miles off the coast with an offset of about 50 feet. By comparison, the movement of the San Andreas fault in 1852 was about 250 miles x 10 miles with an offset of 20 feet. The Earth shifted on its axis by 4 cm. Earth’s rotation was also sped up by 1.6 microseconds, making our days shorter. Tsunami waves that hit Japan were up to 30 feet and in Hawaii they were about 7 feet. In Crescent City, CA they were up to 8 feet. When you think of distance and amount of water involved it was impressive.

The Citizentube channel of YouTube has some great videos from the quake. One of my favorites is here. This video shows the powerful tsunami engulf the Sendai area. Another is this one which shows the shaking starting as this couple flees their home. One last video that strikes it home is this one of the quake inside Tokyo Disneyland. Kudos to the Cast Members who remained mostly calm.

What can you do? If you are the type who likes to donate, please consider the Red Cross. When you go to their donate page, you can select where you want your money to go. It doesn’t have to be Japan, it can go to Military families, your local Red Cross, or to where it is needed the most.

If you are not the type who donates, then consider helping yourself. It doesn’t matter where you live in the USA or around the world. Chances are, you can be hit by some sort of disaster. Could be a tornado, quake, hurricane, flood, nuclear explosion, terrorist attack, whatever. It is important that you keep enough food and water and supplies to be on your own for three to five days. One site that can give you all the information is Pameno. (Full disclosure: I helped develop the site when it first launched, but take no profits from their partners). Another great resource is who have an awesome Get a Kit site. You can also Google “emergency preparedness kit” for all kinds of places that sell ready-made kits for your use.