In the wake of the most powerful earthquake (and subsequent tsunami) in Japan's history, hundreds of people have been killed and many more are missing. But it could have been far worse, if not for what Noah Kristula-Green at FrumForum calls Japan's "remarkable disaster readiness." Yes, the island nation was admirably prepared, says Norimitsu Onishi at The New York Times. "Had any other populous country suffered the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that shook Japan on Friday, tens of thousands of people might already be counted among the dead." What did Japan do right?
1. Adopted strict building codes
With some of the "world's most rigorous" building codes, "no country may be better prepared to withstand earthquakes than Japan," says Norimitsu Onishi at The New York Times. Videos of Japanese skyscrapers swaying may look disturbing, but it's actually a sign of how the buildings were built to withstand tremors by moving along with them. Japan first changed its building guidelines to focus on earthquake preparedness in 1981. The 1995 Kobe earthquake led to further research and development into earthquake safety, and the country's building codes were again revised in 2000.
2. Drilled their population
"Every schoolchild knows what to do the moment the earth begins to shake: Slip a padded cover on to their heads and duck beneath the nearest desk," says Justin McCurry at The Guardian. "People who are at home when disaster strikes know, almost instinctively, to open the front door in case it is necessary to make a quick exit to open ground." For decades, the Japanese government has made a coordinated effort to prepare their population for disaster. September 1 — marking the anniversary of a massive 7.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Tokyo in 1923 — has been known as Disaster Prevention Day in Japan since 1960.
3. Developed warning systems
"Japan boasts the world's most sophisticated earthquake early-warning systems," says Emily Rauhala at TIME. Both public and private organizations conduct emergency drills, and televisions programming is immediately replaced by live coverage in the event of a quake. In 1952, the country set up a tsunami warning service consisting of hundreds of sensors around the archipelago, both in and out of the water, that monitors seismic activity.
4. Constructed special defenses
In the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese coastal communities built concrete seawalls as high as 40 feet for tsunami protection, a move that has been controversial. Critics argue that the walls are eyesores and bad for the environment.