Disaster in Japan

Tsunami is a Japanese word, and we are reminded why today. Our thoughts go to the victims and survivors in Japan as we await more information on the 8.9-magnitude quake that rocked the country earlier today.

One story to watch: Initial reports suggest that Japan’s early warning system for earthquakes (Kinkyu Jishin Sokuho in Japanese) did indeed work in some locations. That system, launched in 2007, is the only one of its kind. It only gives people a few seconds warning at the most (via TV and cell-phone alerts), but it is also designed to automatically send warnings to train operators, elevators, construction sites and gas and power facilities. The system is triggered by the fast-moving but less-powerful waves that tend to manifest themselves seconds before the more powerful tremors.

But the more important technology will undoubtedly prove to be the old-fashioned kind. Strict enforcement of rigorous building codes remains the only way to prevent mass casualties in any significant earthquake. From ABC News today:

Last year’s earthquake in Haiti had a magnitude of 7.0—about a hundredth as violent as the 8.9 earthquake in Japan—but the number of deaths was much higher. The Haitian government eventually reported a death toll of more than 200,000 people. Scientists said Haiti was as much a victim of poverty as geology; it could not afford to build better housing.