I was going to post about a different topic today, but I could not ignore the devastation that befell Japan. The powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami have caused destruction that is difficult to grasp. (See links below for two news articles.) The magnitude of the disaster is even more sobering when you realize that Japan is a developed modern high-tech country. Japan is extremely aware of earthquake risks and has modern building codes and frequent earthquake drills. Despite these efforts in the last 24 hours hundreds have been killed, 4 million people are without electricity, and mobile phone service and public transportation have been disrupted. I can’t remember the last time that a natural disaster caused hundreds of deaths in an advanced country.

My regular readers know that I’m not one to panic. A flip through the archives will demonstrate that I’m rarely worried about whatever issue is causing the latest hand-wringing. I didn’t think H1N1 flu would hurt a lot of people. I’m not worried about irradiated food, pesticides, or plastic bottles.

But natural disasters deserve our attention. Not because an earthquake of similar magnitude might happen here, but because an earthquake of similar magnitude will happen here. It’s only a matter of time. We, like Japan, live on a fault line. An 8.9 magnitude earthquake in LA is likely to kill more than all the people who have ever died of pesticides in food and chemicals seeping from plastic bottles. Worse than the immediate destruction, such a disaster would completely overtax our emergency response systems. Paramedics, police, fire fighters, and emergency rooms would immediately have too few resources to respond to too many emergencies.

Put simply, you and your family for at least a few days would be on your own. This deserves some panic, but panic after the disaster will not be very helpful. In this case panic before the disaster is essential. Another name for that is preparedness.

The CDC (link below) has a very sensible list of suggestions for preparing for a disaster. It suggests tips for storing non-perishable food and fresh water, assembling a kit of emergency supplies, and making an emergency plan with your family.

So please take a look at the CDC recommendations and schedule a specific time to get prepared. And spare a kind thought for the wounded, the missing, the homeless and the bereaved in Japan.

Learn more:

Wall Street Journal article: Magnitude-8.9 Quake, Tsunami Strike Japan

Los Angeles times article: Japan earthquake, tsunami kill hundreds, cause crippling damage

CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response: Emergency Preparedness and You