A day with disasters

EXPERIENCING a 6.0 magnitude earthquake was not something I thought I would experience here in Japan.

I don’t think any of the other journalist participants on the Association for the Promotion of International Cooperation-Foreign Press Centre of Japan program expected it either.

Yet there we were, clutching tightly to table legs as the ground heaved beneath our feet, tossing us around like rag dolls.

Before there are any concerns for our safety, I should probably add that this was all done on a platform via a controlled earthquake simulator. But that didn’t make it any less terrifying.

The earthquake simulator is just one extreme weather simulator at the Honjo Bosai-Kan (Life Safety Learning Centre) run by the Tokyo Fire Department.

Besides the earthquake simulator, there is a smoke maze to help visitors learn how best to escape from smoke in fire, and a typhoon simulator where people are subjected to winds travelling 30 metres per second while being lashed by water from pumps overhead.

And while visiting the facility was a novel experience for the five journalists on the APIC-FPJC program, it is sobering to think the simulators represent the reality that people in Japan live with.

At the time of our visit, Tottori prefecture in western Japan was recovering from a 6.2 magnitude earthquake causing damage to houses and causing blackouts.

This was just one of the 120,000 earthquakes the Japanese Meteorological Agency records at various depths and magnitudes annually.

So it is easy to see why centres such as the Honjo Bosai-Kan are important for educating Japan.

Built 20 years ago, the facility looks like something out of an Isaac Asimov novel.

Our guide Takako Nakamura told us the building was designed to look like a space shuttle launching station.

The futuristic feel of the building extends to the safety helmets on sale at the gift shop with one foldable helmet shaped like a triangle and another constructed with many sides.

Since its construction, the building has hosted educational tours for schoolchildren and adults alike, allowing them to feel the worst weather and seismological events in a controlled environment.

By engaging with the community, the government hopes to educate visitors on how to stay alive in case of a natural disaster and in turn help others survive as well.

The tour of the facility starts with a 20-minute video of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that claimed the lives of more than 22,000 people and caused $F614billion in damage.

The journalists on the APIC-FPJC program were then escorted to the typhoon simulator where after changing into water tight overalls, they were placed in a steel chamber and experienced what it would be like to stand outside during a typhoon.

There are also simulations for using fire extinguishers as well as the behaviour of smoke in burning buildings.

These are also important for Japan because after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, fires raged on in affected regions brought about by the sea water coming into contact with live wires and appliances in homes.

But the real experience was the earthquake simulator.

After a short briefing on the safety procedures during an earthquake, the journalists were left to experience the ground movements, only read about in papers and watched in movies.

While we knew that the simulator was about to begin moving the platform, it was terrifying to think that maybe some of those in Tohoku in 2011 and Tottori just the day before had no idea what was going on when those earthquakes hit.

But with centres such as Hokjai Bosai-Kan, this could be overcome not only in Japan but in other disaster risk areas in the world.

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