What could you do in 90 seconds that could save your life? What could you do to save the life of someone else?
As the earthquake and the tsunami started in tandem, the tremors from the quake cued citizens to seek higher ground, or take cover.
When Japan was hit by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, at a measurement (in American standards) of 8.9 which devastated a city of some 2 million people, there was some warning. This is due to the fact Japan is known as the best structurally prepared country in the world.
More recently, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck the U.S. state of Virginia, sending rare tremors up and down the East Coast.
Step 1: Talk about what students know about the earthquakes. Use the K/W/L chart (see “printables”) and fill in the chart with information students know about earthquakes and tsunamis. Students can also complete this at their seats, if the teacher prefers to have a more independent activity.
Sample answers include:
An Earthquake is when the Earth shakes due to a build up of pressure.
An Earthquake is the sudden release of energy. This happens in the Earth’s curst or upper mantle.
A shift in tectonic plates can cause an earthquake.
A volcanic eruption can cause an earthquake.
When an earthquake happens in the sea, or there is a volcanic eruption there could be a large wave, called a tsunami.
A coastal landslide can cause a tsunami.
Step 2: During the tsunami on March 11, 2011, the warning system Japan had in place for earthquakes, combined with an ocean-based alert system, issued alerts via television and cell phones when the first shocks happened. This caused many transportation systems, energy facilities, and industrial plants to automatically shut down. This was the first time the system had been put to the test.
A series of detection buoys placed along the coastline recorded the magnitude of the tremors and the seismic intensity immediately after the earthquake, after 10 seconds, and after 20 seconds. Students can view a graph of this early monitoring system at the Japan Meteorological Agency site.
In the United States, the United States Geological Survey uses an email alert system to let citizens know when there is a seismic event in their area. Since earthquakes and tsunamis can happen in tandem, knowing there is an earthquake allows those in coastal areas to take precautions for their personal safety.
Step 3: Ask students what they would do if they had 90 seconds to save their own lives, or the lives of their peers. Ask them to consider how their answer would vary if they were a surgeon performing a procedure? What if they were the manager of a nuclear power plant? What if they were a bus driver taking passengers across a bridge?
Set your timer for 90 seconds and ask students to list all of the ways they could save a life in a minute and half. Each entry should start “If I were a _______ I would _______.” Encourage them to think about as many roles in society as possible, and not just think about their current age and life situation.
Have students share samples from their list. For additional ideas, research examples that Japan Meteorological Agency suggests. Since Japan has experience with this type of disaster, citizens begin thinking of how to behave in a disaster from the time they are very young. If time permits, share this video of tourists at Tokyo Disney, as the earthquake hits the park. How would their reaction to the earthquake be the same or different that what they see and hear?
Step 4: (This may go into day 2, if the lesson requires more time) Preparedness is part of the culture as well as the landscape. Buildings created after 1996 were constructed to withstand tremors. The government, having learned from shortcomings in the past, quickly activated firefighters, the coast guard, the police and military personnel to work together. During this disaster, additional threats included a fire at an oil refinery and the threat of nuclear meltdown. Two of five reactors in the area were without cooling capability. The so-called “Ring of Fire” or circum-Pacific seismic belt is a horseshoe shaped area that spans 40,000 km and features volcanic mountain ranges, ocean trenches, and areas of plate movement. Off the coast of Japan, these plates are smaller and collide with the Pacific plate. This potential for aftershocks and additional tsunamis makes the threat of secondary disasters more imminent. Nuclear power plants built near fault lines, in this case, near the Ring of Fire, are especially controversial.
Have students view the 10-minute video with Judy Woodruff about the building codes and impact of the tsunami on the city of Sendai. Students can also read the transcript, available online.
Ask students to think about their K/W/L chart, and listen for new information about preparedness, to go into the center column. Some key ideas or sample answers include:
How sea walls protect cities.
How people of Japan prepare for disasters through education.
How technology can be used to monitor seismic activities.
What is done to buildings to help make them structurally sound?
Step 5: Summarize the lesson. A disaster is not a “one-day event.” While the event itself can be devastating, many natural disasters are one in a series of events. Have students view the live feed of aftershock data in Japan. Knowing that the red dots are aftershocks, and the data is refreshed every 30 minutes, ask students to think about where the threat is, and what industry, commodity, or community could be impacted by another disaster in that area. Think about industries beyond nuclear power plants, but also consider car manufacturing, fisheries, and travel. What other countries are along the Ring of Fire?
Ask students to consider what else they want to learn about earthquakes and tsunamis. For more information on technology and weather patterns encourage students to visit:
The National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration’s site about tsunamis.
To learn more about this specific disaster, students can visit: Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami: How They Happened.
Unlike the tsunami in 2004, maybe people first learned of the event on their smart phones and laptops. Residents of Japan let others know how they by updating their Facebook status or by tweeting about it. On March 11, 2011 some of the terms that were “trending” on Twitter were #tsunami, Fukushima (the nuclear power plant) and #prayforjapan. While social media did help many who had limited access to power to let loved ones know they were safe, another name that trended was Satshi Tajiri, the creator of the animated character Pokémon, due to rumors about his death. This rumor turned out to be false.
In a 3-paragraph essay, explain what the pros and cons are of using technology to communicate during a disaster? What are some differences between the ways technology was used to save lives and connect survivors that were not available in 2004? Research the launch dates of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, and consider that this was the first time an underwater alert system was used. Consider the differences between receiving an email or a cell phone message, given the time you have to respond to an earthquake or tsunami. Do you know anyone who provided disaster relief by cell phone? Is this an effective means of providing support? Why or why not?