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March Editorial: Japan's Disaster Provokes a Re-Examination of Wilson's Emergency Prevention Strategy

Byline: by Xiaomeng Li

Posted: March 25, 2011

Recently, it seems that the planet Earth is not so happy. It is only March, but the world has already had countless disasters. Many of them have been earthquakes. According to United States Geological Survey (USGS), 18 significant earthquakes happened since the first day of 2011, affecting countries such as Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Pakistan, China and most recently, Japan.

On Mar. 11, Japan was hit by the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in its history. As I am writing this editorial, the magnitude has been revised from 8.8 to 9.0 by the Japan Meteorological Agency. A devastating tsunami followed and engulfed a number of towns on the Eastern Honshu island, the main island of Japan's chain of islands. What is worse, the nuclear plant in Fukushima had an explosion with four reported injuries the day after the deadly quake. In the days that followed, more explosions happened and the crisis of the nuclear radiation leak was heightened. People around the world also started to wonder if it would be a more serious case than Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant's radiation leakage in 1986.

In addition to the overwhelming real time newsfeed about the megathrust earthquake and tsunami, people around the world also learned something about Japan from a different perspective.

Japan is an earthquake-prone country. However, even though people there might be used to earthquakes, this particular one was still unprecedented. Thanks to Japan's strict building codes, the country ensured that the buildings could resist high magnitude quakes and this saved millions of lives. Japan's disaster prevention education is everywhere in people's daily lives. Schools and companies teach emergency evacuation and survival techniques at the beginning of the orientation and always hold mock practices. There are also museums dedicated to earthquake and disaster prevention education. With all these preparations and practice, when people faced a real devastating situation, they could handle it with calm and order.

I was particularly moved when I saw a photo in which people gathered outside the buildings after the quake but no one blocked the sidewalk or did anything chaotic at all. Another photo shows that numerous people were stuck in the subway station waiting for the train, but everyone was standing in line with patience. Additionally, from the people I follow on Twitter who were in Japan, I learned that the government and corporations worked hard to make the victims' lives easier. For example, vending machine retailers made their products free for people to obtain. People could also take food from convenience stores and the government paid for them. I was simply moved by the calm and composed status of the Japanese people and the truly people-oriented creed of the authority.

Let us zoom out a little bit. In addition to the earthquake, some other disasters happened at the same time. Even Wilson experienced the heavy rain alert in the beginning of March. On Wed, Mar. 9, Wilson published a heavy rain alert. An all-campus email reminded students, faculty and staff to move their vehicles away from the creek and other areas that could easily be flooded or experience high water. The same warning also appeared in the dining hall.

Although I appreciate the fact that Wilson took the weather forecast seriously and informed the community of potential danger in advance, I think it was not enough because there were more things the school could have done to inform people thoroughly, as well as show its real concern for people's safety. For example, equine students said that the bridge to the Equestrian Center was shut down on Thurs. and the school did not send an email. "What if there had been an emergency at the barns or the farm?" one student asked. Even though Wilson sent out an email alert, it remained unknown if the college had any plan if any of the buildings on campus really flooded. Warning is different than taking action. It would be too late if we just watched the water rise and cleaned up the mess afterwards.

It would be great if Wilson could give everyone on campus a detailed and clear plan of what measures would be taken in case something like a flood happens. What should we do? Where should we go? What if somebody could not check her email or does not have a cell phone when an alert like this is sent? How could the college make sure everyone is contacted? I understand there is a crisis response plan on the college's website, but do people in the community really know how to follow and implement it since we never have mandatory mock practices?

Compared to the horrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan, our flood alert may seem insignificant. However, what Japan has taught us is the importance of the preparation and education of how to deal with disasters. It also shows us how social institutions implement a people-oriented approach to respecting and treasuring every life. Only when people are well-prepared and trust their government and institutions they belong to can they keep their integrity and stay as one in any emergency. Hence, the case reflected by Japan is an important one for any institution, including Wilson.

Last Updated: February 24, 2013

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