Our View: Preparedness paid off for Japan

How strong was Friday's earthquake off the coast of Japan?

It moved the Japanese island of Honshu eight feet to the east, said U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Ken Hudnut.

Seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park say the magnitude of the Japan earthquake was 8.9, one of the greatest in recorded history and tops for Japan.

Even with all the devastation that is now apparent -- with a death toll likely to be 1,000 or more -- Japan's impressive preparedness likely saved tens of thousands of lives.

That island nation has the world's best earthquake monitoring and early warning systems for tsunamis. Based on the type of waves generated by faults, this system alerted residents about 15 seconds before they felt shaking.

Japan enforces strict building codes and applies the most advanced structural engineering to bridges and buildings. Buildings sway, rather than collapse, with their bases moving semi-independently of the superstructure. Japan's coastal communities have regular evacuation drills.

The difference is night and day between this 9.0 earthquake and the 9.1 magnitude quake in 2004 with a tsunami that killed 170,000 people in Indonesia and nearly 230,000 people in India.

Japan is confronting all kinds of damage from the quake, including power outages, possible radiation leaks from five nuclear power plants, fresh water shortages and fires. But it could have been far worse, without Japan's dedication to preparedness.

Americans stand ready to help Japan with rescue and recovery, but they also ought to heed this wake-up call at home.

As much as California has improved its seismic network, retrofitted and done earthquake upgrades since the 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge quakes, we're still nowhere near as prepared as Japan for the "Big One."

The question is worth repeating: Are we ready?

What do you think? If you want to comment on this editorial go to mercedsunstar.com/opinion, then click on "Send a letter to the Sun-Star." (This editorial originated with our sister newspaper The Sacramento Bee.)