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How Do You Prepare For A Disaster That Could Kill More Than 300,000 People?

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, September 3 2013

Aerial view of damage to Wakuya, Japan, following 2011 earthquake (U.S. Navy/Flickr)

An earthquake in the Nankai Trough, off of the southern coast of Japan's Honshu Island, could kill up to 323,000 people and cause ¥220 trillion (US$2.21 trillion) in damages. Or at least, those are the worst case scenario projections by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Disaster Prevention Council. To prepare for the potential calamity, the Japanese government is building an electronic mapping system in advance of the potential earthquake.

The detailed map can be updated with information about floods, mudslides and other aftereffects of the earthquake through satellite images and helicopter flyovers.

The government also plans to “track disaster information” from the GPS in mobile phones, social networking sites and vehicles.

The hope is that the e-map will allow authorities to make well-informed decisions if a disaster hits.

Crisis mapping played a small role in the response to the 2011 earthquake in Japan, although, as techPresident covered in March, not as crucial a role as it did in Haiti in 2010, for example. This was in part because Japan's emergency services are already fairly extensive and because many Japanese were simply not yet aware of the crisis map.

Even though earthquakes are notoriously difficult to predict, the Japanese authorities are implementing geographically-specific safety measures. This is in part because the parameters of hazard maps must be precise; if the constraints are off the results are also off.

Earlier this year, for example, German mathematician Gert Zöller predicted Japan's next giant earthquake will hit in the north, and not the southern region of Tokai/Nankai, where the Japanese government is preparing for the devastating earthquake.

There are other lo-tech preparations being made as well. On Sunday, September 1, 12,000 people in Chiba, a city southeast of Tokyo, participated in an earthquake safety drill, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Earlier this summer, 60,000 residents of Fujisawa practiced their tsunami response, a surefire aftereffect should the earthquake hit. 

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.