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Last updated: 21 May 2011

JMA shares lessons from Earthquake with World Meteorological Congress
(posted 21 May)

The performance of the Japanese Meteorological Agency during and after the 11 March earthquake serves as an example to the rest of the world. The cross-cutting sequence of disasters also showed that there are many lessons that can be learnt in disaster risk management. This was the overriding conclusion of a special event on the sidelines of the World Meteorological Congress.

The Japan Meteorological Agency gave a briefing on its responses to the earthquake, including the continuation of operational services, the recovery of the observation networks, multi-hazard risk reduction and the special services needed to meet the requirements in the damaged areas. It is hoped that the experiences of the emergency responses of JMA will be shared with, and applied to, the operations of, many other National Meteorological Services.

Mr Noritake Nishide, Director-General of the JMA’s Forecast Department, said JMA provided the official single voice of warning; it successfully issued earthquake and Tsunami warnings and related meteorological information to the public in a timely manner; and  it played a critical role in integrated emergency response with the Japanese government.

“You have done an outstanding job and it should be used as an outstanding example for all other countries to follow,” said WMO Secretary-General Mr Michel Jarraud. He said the event demonstrated the advantages of Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems. “This disaster was unfortunately  the ultimate example of a cross-cutting sequence of disasters. You have demonstrated benefits of getting these things working together. It has also shown the importance of having an effective national weather service in charge of all these disaster approaches.” Jarraud told delegates.

Of particular value was the provision of regular JMA advisories in English. This helped enormously in WMO’s liaison with other international organizations including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Jarraud said.

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake – the fourth largest in the world since 1900 - occurred Friday 11 March, off the Pacific coast of Tohoku (norther aprt of the main island)  The ensuing Tsunami, which reached a height of about 9.3 meters one hour after the earthquake, caused massive damage to the coastline. About 25,000 people were killed or are missing and 100,000 remain in evacuation centres, said Mr Nishide.

JMA issued the Earthquake Early Warning 8.6 seconds after the detections of seismic waves, i.e., 15 to 20 seconds before the major shaking in Sendai city, which is very close to the epicenter, and the first Tsunami warning three minutes after the earthquake, when JMA headquarters in Tokyo were still shaking, said Nishide.

“Did the Tsunami warning save lives? It’s a very tough question which needs careful analysis,” said Nishide. He quoted the example of the coastal area of Rikuzen Takata which was completely inundated. Of its 16,640 population, 2,170 were reported dead or missing – meaning that 85% were saved, he said. Schools in Kamaishi were evacucated immediately after earthquake, he said, and so almost all the students survived.

Every year there are on average 26 Typhoons (tropical cyclones) in the North-west Pacific, and these regularly either land on or affect Japan, hence the importance of effective multi-hazard early warning systems in the country, said Nishide.  

Nishide said meteorological observation posts and tidal stations destroyed by the tsunami had now mostly been restored.

He said lessons learned included the importance of a back-up electricity supply to allow observation and communications systems to continue in the event of a power blackout;  and the importance of airports which can become operational after a major disaster quicker than roads, railways and ports.

He said the accidental release of radioactive contaminants from the Fukushima nuclear power plant which was damaged by the Tsunami highlighted the need to establish new international guidelines for the issuance of significant meteorological warnings, known as SIGMETs, for air crews in the event of a radioactive cloud.

At the request of the IAEA, WMO activated its Environmental Emergency Response mechanism on 12 March in the aftermath of the earthquake and Tsunami which damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant. WMO provided the IAEA with meteorological information and its Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres in Asia (Beijing, Tokyo and Obninsk, Russian Federation) took the lead in developing predictions of the trajectories and spreading of contaminants.

Japan Meteorological Agency




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