Friday, May 20, 2011

How to Survive a Tsunami

Yesterday, I attended a briefing given by Kit Miyamoto, Ph.D., Structural Engineer; CEO, Miyamoto International.

Dr. Miyamoto was visiting Japan as a presenter at an earthquake engineering conference hosted by the Tokyo Institute of Technology on March 11th when the recent 9.0 earthquake hit Japan. He was asked to stay on in Japan for a few weeks to conduct an assessment of the damage that was caused, mostly by the tsunami.

Dr. Miyamoto holds graduate degrees from the Tokyo Institute of Technology and California State University. He was also awarded Distinguished Alumni by California State University, Chico. He specializes in High-Performance Earthquake Engineering, as well as Disaster Mitigation, Response, and Reconstruction.

In his report, he said the following. Steel and cement buildings withstood the tsunami, while wooden structures were mostly flattened. He said the tsunami waters were so high that you would have had to be in a steel or cement buildings 4 floors up to be certain of survival. He said that in the future he expected that coastline houses and other buildings would be five floors high and made of cement or steel. He said that there are designs which can be created that could make such steel and cement buildings attractive looking for the coast line.

Dr. Miayamoto took a quite libertarian stance when he was asked if building codes needed to be changed. He said no and that the only thing that was needed was for the information to get out about what type structures survived and the private sector would take care of the rest. He also said the reconstruction projects necessary to rebuild the devestated areas in Japan were too big for government to handle and should be left to the private sector.

Slides he showed were quite remarkable. Some showed vast areas of wooden houses simply flattened but a single steel or cement structure surviving. He said construction in Japan is much like that in the United States, where most houses are wooden.

He told us that after the earthquake hit and based on the epicenter of the earthquake those in the tsunami area had about a 20 minute notice to head to higher ground. He said the warning system worked and saved many lives. Roughly 25,000 to 30,000 were killed by the tsunami. Most that died fell into two groups, those that were caught in traffic jams and died in their cars and those that thought the tsunami wouldn't reach them.

I asked how far inland the tsunami went, he said about 10 kilometers (6.25 miles).  He said one lesson learned was that, if you are in a traffic jam when a tsunami is coming, the best thing to do is abandon your car and head for higher ground. He also said the force of the water was most powerful along rivers, as the rivers acted as a funnel for the on-rushing water.

He said he expected at some point a devastating earthquake in Istanbul. And warned that there likely will be "in our lifetime" a 9.2 or greater earthquake on the west coast of the United States.


  1. Did you ask Dr. Miayamoto if a modern skyscraper could be felled by a jumbo jet collision and fire? That's the real question for a structural engineer.

  2. wheres the answer motherfucker?

  3. @Bob. Excellent question. He's hasn't signed this petition:
    but many other very smart people have.

    Also, you made some very good points about building codes here: