Preparing Your Home for an Earthquake, Pt. 1: Assessing the Safety of Your Building

WaNavi Japan hosts regular earthquake preparedness workshops to cover the essentials for living safely and comfortably in Japan. Check our upcoming events, latest announcements on our Facebook page, or contact us at contact@wanavi.org to find out when our next workshop is or to request one for you and your community.

An unfortunate reality of living in Japan, as well as many other places in the world, is that we may need to deal with natural disasters including earthquakes, typhoons, floods, landslides, and even volcanic eruptions at any time. Earthquakes in particular have caused catastrophic damage to Japan in the past. Since we don’t know when an earthquake may hit and have very little time to prepare once the shaking begins, an essential part of protecting yourself and your family in the event of an earthquake is preparing the place you eat, sleep, and spend a good portion of your time: your home. In this article, we’ll offer concrete steps on the kinds of information you can gather to judge the safety of the building you live in.

How Safe is My Home?: Japan Earthquake Standards and How to Check Your Building

The first and most important thing to check is the stability of the building itself. In Japan, the Building Standard Act has been strictly reviewed every time we experience a significant earthquake. Although building codes are updated regularly, a major change to the building standards act occurred in 1981, as a result of the earthquake off the shore of Miyagi Prefecture in 1978.

Buildings built before1981 are called “kyū-taishin (old standard)” and buildings built after June 1981 are called “shin-taishin (new standard)“. New standard buildings are built under requirement that they cannot collapse in an earthquake of magnitude 7 or higher, or a Japanese seismic scale of upper 6 or higher. In the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Disaster, only 0.3% of the new standard buildings suffered serious damage, while 8.4% of the old standard buildings suffered serious damage. In the same earthquake, 77% of the cause of death was crushed death due to the collapsing of buildings and toppling of furniture. This is why it is extremely important that you know when your building was built. If it was built under the old standard, you will want to ask your landlord or real estate agent whether any seismic strengthening measures have been put in place.

Next in our series, we will look at how to evaluate your home’s safety from the inside [link when available] to ensure you are safe from potential dangers including collapsing furniture, broken windows, or blocked doors. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, be sure to contact us [link] or leave a comment below.

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