The Japan EQ and Tsunami – A Strong Case for Preparedness

Like you, I have been mesmerized by the video on the television news channels and the internet of the catastrophic 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan.  Watching the violent shaking that occurred as well as the falling debris and fires.  The visual of that huge wall of water sweeping away everything in its pathway.  Cars looked like simple toys floating in water, homes and buildings being washed away.  People confused, scared, and lost.  Many waiting to be rescued.  And then, an explosion at a local nuclear plant resulting in leaking radiation and a possible meltdown.  If you hadn’t witnessed the event yourself through the power of television and internet you probably would say it’s even too much for Hollywood.  Of course some still don’t believe the United States successfully landed men on the moon.  And now the citizens of Japan must live through the aftershocks.

If there is any shred of early good news coming out of this mega-disaster, it’s that given the large magnitude of the earthquake, the people were prepared (yes, it could have been worse) and that many of the larger buildings in the region seemed to have fared fairly well due to the building codes in place.  Japan is considered the most earthquake prepared country in the world.

It will take years, if not generations for Japan to recover.  And while Japan may be a long way from where each of us is, we must recognize that this is yet another harsh reminder that no matter where we live we face some level of risk and that we should take the time to become better prepared ourselves.

Here’s some of my thoughts on what we can do …


We must make citizen preparedness a priority in our communities.  On a continual basis we need to encourage our citizens to learn and practice preparedness for the risks they face.

Through federal grants, a lot of money has been spent since 9/11 on first responder readiness.  Today, our focus and priorities should be moving increasingly toward greater citizen preparedness.  Why isn’t a significant portion of our current Homeland Security funding being allocated toward citizen preparedness efforts?

Every community should establish an objective that X% of the community (where X is a community set objective) will receive preparedness training (ie. Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) ) training within the next year.  If we don’t set a goal, how will we now we are making progress?

It’s understandable that funding has been very tight given our current and past economic woes.  But with honest determination and creativity there are ways in which to accomplish citizen preparedness with limited financial support.  Start a community discussion with key-stakeholders. Partner with neighboring communities and seek out community partnerships within the private sector as well as with faith-based organizations.  Look further at how working together we can make great things happen.


While traditional teachings hold that the role of Business leaders/managers is to protect shareholder value, they also have a moral obligation to protect their employees.  Some may say that given the past display of greed by some business leaders there is a lack of morals in business.  I hope they would be wrong.  I prefer to think that many leaders want to do the right thing but aren’t sure where to start.

The simple answer is lead by example.  First, become prepared yourself.  Then, look for opportunities to champion preparedness for your business and your employees.

Large Business

  • Start a discussion with those in your company tasked with Business Continuity (you do have a Business Continuity program in place don’t you?) about what’s really needed to improve your company’s preparedness (readiness) .
  • Ensure that they aren’t just looking at how to protect and recover your essential business functions, but that they are also looking at how your company will respond to an event and subsequently  work with external responders that will be at your door step.
  • Ask what is being done in your company to help your employees prepare – not just at work, but at home as well.  If your employees aren’t prepared at home, they won’t be coming back to help with your recovery.

Small and Medium Business

Remember KISS – “Keep It Short and Simple”.

  • Assume you will be displaced for at least 72 weekday hours
  • Identify who your essential employees and decision makers are and how you will contact them in an emergency.
  • Identify and prioritize your critical business functions – not everything is critical.
  • Identify where you will work if you lose access to your facility and what you will need to function while you are there.
  • Identify key suppliers and vendors and how you will contact them in an emergency.
  • Identify the tasks your essential employees will need to do to Respond and Recover from an emergency.  Don’t forget to also include how you will Return your business after the fact.
  • Document Document Document – all of the stuff mentioned above.  Remember KISS.
  • Once you have your documentation – practice with your essential employees.
  • Look for improvement

Here are a few great resources to assist you:


Throughout our educational system we must teach preparedness.  “Drop Duck and Cover” has been practiced in our schools for many years and as a result, we (adults) remember it.  But we need to reinforce those basic skills as children grow older, and offer more mature ways in which to prepare as well.

Again, the CERT training has proven very successful when used in the high schools (referred to as TEEN CERT).  Today, college campuses across the country are developing Campus Emergency Response Teams.  Here’s an example of one program active on the campus of St Louis University SLU CERT

And let’s not forget about the preparedness factor that’s at the core of both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.


Make it a goal this year to attend CERT training in your area.  If there isn’t one nearby, contact your local Police or Fire Department about starting one.  If all else fails, take the free online version offered by FEMA ( ).

Here’s a terrific program to help you be better prepared.  It’s a program managed by the Missouri Department of Health and senior Services.  The program is called “Ready In 3”.  Very simple to use and great information.

Places of Worship

In a disaster, people’s spiritual needs will be strong.  People will seek out churches for support whether or not they are members or of the same faith.  Is your church prepared to be that beacon of light?  Are your leaders prepared to be accessible following a disaster to be that Shepard?  If not, take steps now to be ready when needed:

  • Write a plan for how the church will manage after a disaster.  In the business setting, we’d call this a “business continuity plan”.  As the folks at Convoy of Hope say, “to minimize the potential for disruption to church ministries and operations, and to strengthen your position from which to minister to others when disaster strikes, you must prepare”.  Here’s their site for more info:
  • Also, consider offering CERT training to your leadership as well as your members/congregants.  Contact your local Police or Fire Department for help.
  • Finally, get active in community discussions about how your place of worship can be part of the solution.     

The Great Central U.S. Shakeout 

The Central U.S. ShakeOut Drill ( ) is scheduled for 10:15 AM on April 28, 2011 (Indiana will participate on April 19, also at 10:15 AM). This means that wherever you are at that moment—at home, at work, at school, anywhere—you should Drop, Cover, and Hold On as if there were a major earthquake occurring at that very moment, and stay in this position for at least 60 seconds. There will not be any freeway closures, power outages, or other simulated effects of the hypothetical earthquake, unless your local government or utility company specifically notifies you about something of this nature. The ShakeOut is not something you need to leave work to participate in—in fact, participating at work is encouraged! Businesses, organizations, schools, and government agencies can register and have their employees practice Drop, Cover, and Hold On or have a more extensive emergency drill.

The main goal of the ShakeOut is to get everyone prepared for major earthquakes, so use the ShakeOut as an opportunity to learn what to do before, during, and after an earthquake.   Anyone can participate, from a single individual at their home to a major company at the office. Talk to your coworkers, neighbors and friends about the ShakeOut and encourage their participation.

NLE 2011

In May 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will conduct the National Level Exercise 2011 (NLE 2011; ). The purpose of the exercise is to prepare and coordinate a multiple-jurisdictional integrated response to a national catastrophic event.

NLE 2011 is a White House directed Congressionally mandated exercise that will focus on regional catastrophic response and recovery activities between federal, regional, state, tribal, local and private sector participants.

The focus of the exercise will simulate the catastrophic nature of a major earthquake in the central United States region of the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ). The year 2011 is the bicentennial anniversary of the 1811 New Madrid earthquake, for which the NMSZ is named. NLE 2011 will be the first NLE to simulate a natural hazard.

Extra Reading

Here’s a book that is a terrific read – Amanda Ripley’s “The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why”

In her book, Amanda Ripley explains how our brain works in disasters — and how we can learn to do better when a disaster occurs. 

TIP:  Don’t forget to – Spring ahead on Saturday March 12, 2011 …  change your clocks at midnight for Daylight savings Time.  Also, change batteries in your smoke and CO detectors.  Lastly, rotate supplies in your 72-hour disaster supplies kit.  If you don’t have one – take the time now to put one together (Click here about how to make a kit ).


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