Friday, March 11, 2011

Natural Disaster Devastates Japan

As you have probably heard, Japan was rocked by the most powerful earthquake in its history, resulting in an extremely damaging tsunami reaching from the Pacific Rim to the Pacific coast of the US.

For those that have students traveling to Japan this summer, we want to let you know that at this time our program itineraries do not appear to be impacted. We will continuously follow the events as they unfold to ensure this holds true and will quickly reach out to all families in the event the situation does change. [Update: 3/14/11 - We have an update on the nuclear reactor situation. Please continue to check this blog for additional updates.]
  • Early indications show that the region to the north and east of Tokyo were the primary targets for Earthquake and Tsunami damage.

  • People To People Student Ambassador programs are primarily focused to the south of Tokyo in areas that appear to thus far have been unaffected by today’s disaster.

  • The two maps below are provided to help you gain sense of the locations of the earthquake and the tsunami. The first map shows the area impacted. The second shows a map of the locations the student visit. Our People To People representatives in Tokyo were quick to inform us that all was well and that their offices and staff in Tokyo were not impacted.

Areas Affected:

Asia Land Routes by Itinerary

Land of the Rising Sun Itinerary

Treasures of Japan Itinerary

This is the latest in a string of natural events that have occurred. Over the past couple of months we have provided guidance on the steps we take to ensure our delegations are safe when traveling to countries that have experienced a catastrophic event. A few recent examples are the earthquake that hit Christchurch in New Zealand, the temporary suspension of travel to Egypt, and the flooding and cyclone that struck our friends in Australia. Now once again we are witnessing an event in a country we plan to visit, Japan.

Earthquakes are not uncommon. Living on the west coast most of my life, I have personally experienced them. The last one happened just after I got off the airplane in Seattle on Wednesday February 28th, 2001. It was one of the most powerful earthquakes to hit Seattle in over a half century. At the time I was attending the University of Washington to earn my Master's Degree and suddenly I had a flashback to my old school days and our teachers drilling us on what to do when an earthquake strikes. Knowing what to do and how to reduce the chance of being hurt, helped me through that event. With that in mind and with so many earthquakes in the news this year, I thought I would provide a refresher to educate your student and yourself on safety hints during such an event.

Earthquake Safety Procedures

The State Department sent this information out this morning to remind all Americans of this important guidance.

The American Red Cross recommends that in the event of aftershocks, persons should move to open spaces away from walls, windows, buildings, and other structures that may collapse, and should be alert to the danger of falling debris. If you are indoors, DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON: If possible, seek cover under a sturdy desk or table, hold on, and protect your eyes by pressing your face against your arm. If there is no table or desk nearby, sit on the floor against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases or tall furniture that could fall on you. Avoid damaged buildings and downed power lines. Great care should be used with matches, lighters, candles, or any open flame due to the possibility of disrupted gas lines.

(Disclosure: I am certified instructor for the Red Cross)

Also today our good friends and partners at On-Call International provided these insights into precautions a person should take when a Tsunamis is fore-casted:

Tsunamis can rapidly flood coastal areas with devastating results. Areas at greatest risk are those less than 25 ft/8 m above sea level and within 1 mi/1.6 km of the shoreline. If you're in a coastal area when an earthquake that lasts 20 seconds or longer occurs, first protect yourself from the earthquake: Drop, cover, and hold on. When the shaking stops, move quickly to higher ground away from the coast.

If you are on the beach and the water suddenly and dramatically recedes from the shoreline, a tsunami may be imminent. The approaching wave may be visible as a churning line of foamy water, but it may not be visible at all until it strikes. Don't delay to collect belongings: Run for higher ground immediately, or climb to the highest floor of a multistory, well-built building. Be careful to avoid downed power lines, and stay away from buildings and bridges from which heavy objects might fall during an aftershock. A last-ditch survival tactic is to climb as high as you can into a sturdy tree or climb onto the roof of a building. Tsunamis often occur as multiple waves of varying size, so do not return to an affected area until you're certain the danger has passed.

As an international organization dedicated to building bridges with people around the world, we at People to People Ambassador Programs feel a connection with the tragedy unfolding in Japan. We have a strong presence in Japan, and what happens to Japan happens to us. Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends and the families affected by the earthquake, tsunami and their aftermath.

Several organizations are coming to the aid of Japan, including the American Red Cross, if you are interested in donating to rescue and relief efforts.

I wish you all safe travels and a healthy life!

Mike Bowers
Senior Director of Health & Safety

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