Defending Yourself When Disaster Strikes

Being Prepared for an Earthquake


Japan is well-known for its earthquakes. Do you know how to prepare for the big one, and how to protect yourself when a quake occurs?

Japanese Earthquake Scale

In addition to calculating the magnitude of an earthquake, or the total energy it packs, Japan uses a 10-step scale to describe the intensity of shaking at any given location. The illustrations below show the Japanese quake intensity scale, from level 0 (no shaking that can be felt) to level 7, which brings widespread devastation.

If a Quake Strikes While You’re At Home

Protect yourself during a big earthquake in Japan!

Stay away from windows and things that might fall.

Crawl under a table or heavy furniture.

You don’t need to hurry up and turn off the gas.

If an earthquake with a seismic intensity of 5 or greater hits, the gas mains are turned off automatically by the gas utility. Wait in your safe place until the shaking stops.

If a Quake Strikes While You’re Outdoors

An earthquake can cause objects to topple, glass to shatter and fly, and walls and hillsides to collapse, so cover your head and stay away from buildings and danger zones.

If a Quake Strikes While You’re In a Tall Building

It is too dangerous to evacuate immediately from a tall building. It’s definitely safer to stay inside and cover your head to protect yourself from falling objects. Stay away from the windows and heavy furniture.

Do not use elevators, as they may lose power in a blackout. Keeping calm and avoiding panic are the keys to staying safe during an earthquake.

If a Quake Strikes While You’re Using an Elevator or Escalator

In an Elevator

If you are in an elevator, hit the button for every floor and get out as soon as you can. (Some elevator systems are designed to automatically stop at the nearest floor when shaking is detected.) In the worst case, if the elevator is stuck or in a dangerous condition, use the emergency call function to contact help and wait for rescue.

When the emergency call function doesn’t work, call emergency services directly if there’s a cellphone available.

The number to dial in Japan is 119, a direct-dial emergency number that connects the caller to emergency firefighting, rescue, and medical services.

On an Escalator

During an earthquake, if the escalator stops abruptly, it can cause passengers to fall down. It’s best to grasp the handrail and stand still on a step whenever you ride an escalator.

Never use the elevator or escalator to escape during an earthquake!

If a Quake Strikes While You’re Underground

If you’re in a subway, underground passage, or underground shopping center, first of all, keep away from panes of glass and signboards. Try to shield your head with your bag or other belongings from things that may fall.

Walk along the walls toward the nearest exit. If the exit is too crowded, continue on to a less crowded exit.

If a Quake Strikes While You’re on a Train

Trains in Japan are designed to halt operation when serious shaking arrives. If you are sitting, hold your bag tightly. If you’re standing, hold on tightly to the bars or straps overhead, and shield your head with your bag or other belongings. Do not get off the train until instructed to do so by railway staff or emergency workers!

If a Quake Strikes While You’re Shopping

Stores can be full of shelves of items that pose a danger during serious shaking. Stay away from the shelves and protect your head from falling objects. The most dangerous place is near the entrance and exit glass doors of the supermarket or convenience store. Do not go near there until shaking has subsided.

If you can’t go out immediately, one safe place is under the cashier counter table. Once the shaking has stopped and it is safe to move, evacuate the danger zone.

(Prepared based on the “Tokusuru! Bōsai” project promoted by the Japan Weather Association. All images courtesy JWA.)

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