The thing we need to bear in mind (other than the fact that Japan is a very long country, and most parts of it are hundreds of miles from the epicenter) is that there is no place in the world better-prepared for seismic trouble than Japan. Read through that post. Read about the checklists. Read about the architecture and the failsafes and the emergency warning systems. This is still a tragedy and a disaster, and no amount of human planning can completely mitigate that; ultimately, the planet is stronger than we are. But this would be a much larger tragedy and disaster if they hadn’t been ready for it. (Even the situation at the Fukushima reactors isn’t as bad as it could have been, though I can’t confirm if the writer of that post is right about the scale of leakage there. I hope he is.)
Remember this, the next time some politician in your locality or nation proposes cutting funding for emergency preparedness, be it earthquake, tornado, hurricane, volcano, blizzard, or whatever. It’s an easy cut to make in the short term, when you’re trying to make a political point about “fiscal responsibility.” But I put that inside sarcasm quotes because what you’re really doing is gambling that nothing bad is really going to happen, and sooner or later, you lose that bet. Japan knows better than to gamble on that; they’re home to some absurdly high percentage of the world’s earthquakes. But other countries — like the U.S. — aren’t so sensible, and places like New Orleans pay the bill.
I want to be more like Japan. I live in California, and I want to believe my state is equally ready for when the Hayward Fault blows. But I don’t think we are.