Civil/Structural Engineering, Vashon, Washington, USA 206-463-5311
Ellisport Engineering Blog
Japanese Tsunami a Year Later

One of the most striking and sobering presentations I’ve ever attended occurred last June in Kane Hall at The University of Washington.  A group of SEAW (Structural Engineers Association of Washington) engineers had visited Japan to view first-hand the recent earthquake and tsunami damage.  SEAW has often sent a small contingent of engineers to observe and learn from disasters; many of these engineers serve on code committees, so the information is invaluable.  Additionally, they often present their findings to our engineering community at-large.  Such was the case on June 15, 2011, when they presented their findings of the March 11th Japanese earthquake and tsunami. 

My June 16th blog of last year presented an email I sent to our daughter Katherine, who lives and works in South Korea.  Japan and Japanese culture have long been interests of Katherine’s.  She studied Japanese for 4 years in high school and did additional studies at the UW, has visited Japan three times, and has always been impressed by their peoples’ strength and resiliency.  Living in Asia made the Japanese tragedy additionally poignant to her.

I thought it would be interesting to re-visit what the Japanese have done in the past year towards their estimated $309 billion recovery.  The easiest way to view the enormity of the tasks, and measure the recovery progress, is through pictures.  Below are three web links that show “before pictures” (pictures taken before recovery efforts) and “after pictures” (pictures taken one year later).,0,5361679.htmlstory

At the following website, if you click the “after picture”, you will see the “before picture” from roughly the same area – an interesting way to present it.

Viewing the pictures brought many thoughts to mind.  My overall assessment is that they have made tremendous progress, but still have a long ways to go.  And there are many nagging questions: How will the Japanese fund the recovery when, undoubtedly, they will suffer other earthquakes?  How do they prepare for the next earthquake and tsunami?  If 5 meter seawalls were overtopped by 15 meter waves, do they design for 15 meter waves?  Is it even possible to stop a 15 meter wave?  With land at a premium, do they simply forgo building in any tsunami zone?  Do they evacuate other undamaged coastal areas with similar risks?  What other lessons-learned can they implement to protect themselves for the next emergency?

And the bottom line to all of us locally is, we in the Northwest have similar coastal conditions, similar plate tectonics, and face similar earthquake and tsunami risks as Japan.  It behooves us to watch their lead and learn from them.

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