Emergency Warning Systems

2 comments Written on June 23rd, 2011     
Filed under: earthquake, missions
Last night we stayed at the base camp in Miyako City. Just as we were getting up, around 6:51AM I heard the rumbling begin. We had felt a small aftershock last night as we were getting ready for bed but this morning I distinctly heard it before I felt it. Within a second or two the building began to rattle, and although there wasn’t any violent shaking or large movements the intensity was noticeably stronger than most little aftershocks. And it kept going for quite a while; possibly 30 seconds or so.

In a region where aftershocks are still an almost daily¬†occurrence three and a half months after the big one, people hardly react at all when the trembling begins yet again. The good news is that the frequency and intensity of the aftershocks is clearly decreasing with time. But then every once in a while there is an exception to that pattern; like this morning. Within minutes loud sirens began to wail throughout the city. Then we heard spoken warnings over the public broadcasts system; “We’ve just had a strong earthquake and a tsunami alert has been issued. Do not go anywhere near the water and keep posted for further instructions.” This is the emergency tsunami warning system. Automated steel gates along the coastline begin to close, warnings are sounded and people near the water know enough to quickly get to higher ground.

The sirens and warnings continued to sound for about thirty minutes. We were in a section of the city where no buildings were destroyed but many were partially damaged on March 11. Looking out the window I saw pedestrians, cars, trucks and even public buses coming and going. Surprisingly, just as many were heading toward the water as the other direction. Clearly these people were not too worried. We followed suit and carried on with our morning devotions, although with more than a few extras prayers for the safety of the residents of Miyako. In retrospect, these residents have heard the warning sirens over and over again throughout the years. Nine times out of ten the waves never come, and even when they do it is usually just a matter of water levels rising a few centimeters before going back to normal. Furthermore, they now know what kind of earthquake it takes to create a giant tsunami like the one on March 11, and today’s rattle was clearly not that sort of shake. So perhaps it was only normal for the people in that part of the city to largely ignore the warnings.

And yet being overly cautious has always been the goal of the emergency warning system. Any time there is even a remote chance of a tsunami the sirens sound and the warnings are issued. Steel gates in the seawalls close automatically and schools immediately put into practice all that they have rehearsed in their regular tsunami drills. Signs along the roads all point drivers and pedestrians toward safety. This emergency tsunami warning system is arguably the best in the world. And yet we are surrounded by the incredibly vivid reminders of how that system ultimately failed just three and a half months ago.

Nearly thirty thousand lives were lost on that day. Hundreds of thousands became homeless. Countless others lost their jobs and almost everything that defined “normal” life for them. Now we are being faced with the burning question; “Who is my neighbor?” Or more specifically, are we as individuals, and as a church, prepared to show unconditional love and compassion toward the survivors in the name of Jesus Christ? The good news today is that based on the limited pieces that I’ve witnessed each and every time I’ve come to Tohoku, the clear and bold answer to that question is a resounding “Yes!”

Please continue to pray for the people of Tohoku and for the work of all who come to serve and love those in need. Please especially remember the 3.11 Iwate Church Network as they continue to receive our teams of volunteers and find opportunities to serve the people of this devastated region.

Today’s Earthquake

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2 comments “Emergency Warning Systems”

Jim – you’ve stood out in my mind as one who has put feet on his faith amidst this tragedy/crisis with the countless trips you’ve taken up north. And on top of this, you communicate passionately and articulately – inspiring stuff. Thanks!

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Ignoring the emergency warning system reminds me of the people who hear the Gospel but ignore it and go about their owe businesses. Some day they will wish they had listened as it will be too late.

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