Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Japan's Take on Emergency Prep

Back from Japan: spent a week there, touring Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. Many things were strikingly different. One are their emergency preparations, some better than ours, some not.

Most buildings I saw that were taller than ladder-truck height had one set of external stairs, so evacuees wouldn't be smoked out by an enclosed stairway turning into a chimney. The hotel we occupied in Kyoto had what appeared to be fire refuges outside of each window, something like a very small patio.

I was surprised to see heat sensitive elevator buttons in the lobbies there: I don't see them in US high rises anymore because of concerns that fires will bring elevators to the fire floors. Maybe they have a software override?

Earthquake preps are better in Japan after the widespread death and destruction around Kobe (1995) reminded them that much more work was needed to prevent deaths from building collapse (particularly the collapse of wooden buildings with heavy tile roofs) and widespread fires.

Seismically activated gas-shutoffs are required now.

Japan has earthquake simulator rooms to teach kids how to respond when the Big One comes. Dial it up, and anybody inside can see that these events are something to take seriously. (One of these machines, which fits on a truck, was used in the Oakland area for a while doing similar demonstrations at schools, but there was too little support here to keep it in operation.)

The hotels all had flashlights by the beds and I saw instructions like these: in case of earthquake, open the room door so it won't jam shut as the building racks, and trap you inside.

On a cable car at Yomiuri Land (an amusement park in the western suburbs of Tokyo) there were instructions in case of mishap, in English, headed “In the Wish of the Emergency.” Striking phrase!

We found they had gone to great effort to offer signage and audio announcements in English as well as Japanese. We did see a trend to offer Chinese as well and I predict that will grow … a lot.
We rode the bullet trains (shinkansen) several times: found them roomy, fast at +120 mph, and they run like clockwork. It's not a cheap way to travel for residents, but the Japan Rail pass available to visiting foreigners makes it very affordable. Japan Rail can be used on JR buses, subways, local trains, and the bullet trains except for the Nozomi routes.

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