Your Portable Earthquake Kit

Today’s Daily Yomiuri (English language) newspaper has an article about what you should carry with you every time you go out. This may seem like a case of earthquake paranoia but the fact is that after the earthquake on March 11th 2011, or the Great East Japan Earthquake, millions of people were stranded in the Tokyo area because all the train lines stopped. Some started running again around 11pm (the quake was at 2:46pm), and some started running later but that night there were huge numbers of people stranded at work, forced to sleep somewhere (for example institutions with large halls etc. opened to anyone who needed somewhere to shelter) or who walked home 20 or 30 kilometres in the dark. While I have heard anecdotal stories about other people’s experiences, I was lucky to be at home when the quake happened. Three Japanese friends who were here at the time stayed the night because they couldn’t get home (and I was glad of the company, it was not a time to be alone), and over one hundred students and over twenty members of staff had to stay at school.

As you may have considered, when the trains did start running again, there were many thousands of people anxious to get home, and this resulted in terrible crushes, far greater than the usual rush hour unpleasantness. I heard from a friend that another friend of hers was stranded in Shibuya, and waited there until the trains started running again. She was so crushed on the train that by the time she reached her destination she had cracked ribs, and was so traumatised by the experience of being first stranded then crushed, that for months afterwards she carried a fairly hefty rucksack with her whenever she went out with plenty of supplies in case it happened again.

So, today’s article, titled Going Out? Got Your Emergency Supplies? caught my attention. Here is the list of recommended articles:

* 500ml drinking water

* Ready-to-eat foods (e.g. chocolate or candy) but maybe nuts or power bars are better?

* A whistle (to attract attention if you are trapped somewhere)

* A flashlight

* A portable radio (e.g. a tiny credit-card size one to keep up with emergency broadcasts and the latest information) but you could also make sure you have apps for radio on your smartphone

* Emergency contact information (e.g. phone numbers for other family members) and a copy of your ID.

* Writing implements and cash (including ¥10 coins for pay phones)

This kind of makes sense, since right after the earthquake the mobile phone networks got overloaded and couldn’t be relied on. Since this also happens regularly around midnight on New Year’s Eve every year it’s reasonable to expect it to happen after any large earthquake. However, on March 11th the landlines weren’t working either and I had to use Skype to contact my parents in the UK even over an hour later, and since almost everyone has a mobile phone now it’s not so easy to find a pay phone.  So, ¥10 coins?  Probably worth carrying, but it might take you a while to get through to anyone no matter which method you use. It would be better to make sure you carry the means of recharging your mobile phone, and if you have a smartphone to add apps like Skype or Viber.

* First Aid supplies (antiseptic, bandages etc.), basic drugs and a flu mask

The flu mask is an interesting one.  After the earthquake last year the BBC chose as its graphic for any items about the aftermath a photo of 2 Japanese women wearing such masks and cowering amid rubble. To anyone familiar with Japan those masks are a familiar sight; to protect the wearer from germs or pollen, or to protect everyone else from the wearer’s own germs. My irritation with the BBC graphic was the lack of cultural context and the implication therefore that these masks were to protect against possible radiation from Fukushima Dai-ichi, which would be a ridiculous idea. I have found that wearing one will indeed also keep you warm (one of the suggestions for carrying them) but will also result in you re-inhaling carbon dioxide and less oxygen and I very quickly end up with a headache which disappears the moment I take off the mask.

* Portable latrine

Well, there were some stories about these items at the time, but really . . . really?

* Tissue paper

* Disposable pocket warmer

These are useful in the winter and are probably a good idea but they only last a few hours and to carry enough to make a difference would be quite a weight. Better to carry one of those extremely thin Uniqlo heat tech thermal tops, it would take up less space, be much lighter and keep more of you warmer, longer.

* Large handkerchief, plastic bags

I think the idea must be to use the large handkerchief as a combination towel and / or furoshiki, i.e. traditional Japanese wrapping cloth.  Not a bad idea.

* Safety pins (‘to make a towel into underwear’)  . . . pardon? There is no towel on this list, so where are you getting that from?  Better to carry a change of underwear, surely? Then you can continue to wear normal clothes while this jerry-rigged adult nappy get-up would seem to impede most people’s normal attire.

Hmmm . . . some of this makes perfect sense, some is very Japanese, there are some things that seem unnecessary and some things they have not included that I would, e.g.

* A small bottle of hand sanitiser

* An ATM / cashpoint card

* An inflatable neck pillow (the kind you would take on a plane)

* Toothbrush and toothpaste (again, one of those kits you would pack into the little bag you take on a plane, in fact a little bag like that with mini toiletries is probably a good idea).

It all comes down to, how much do you want to carry? Too much and you are going to have a constant reminder with you of impending doom and that will probably do nothing for your general mood.  Some of the items suggested are what I think a lot of people carry anyway, and then it’s up to you what you add over and above that. It’s made me think, and without adding too much bulk or weight to my handbag I could make myself more secure with just a few items.

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