The Earthquake that Never Came!


On Friday, January 5 at 11:02 am, people within central Tokyo and the surrounding districts received a warning about an imminent earthquake. It was supposed to be both powerful and cause severe shaking. However, the shaking we were warned about never happened, and that strong earthquake never came. Even as mobile phones warnings sounded and public loudspeaker alerts were blaring. Tokyo just stood in silence waiting … after what turned out to be simply a false alarm.

So what actually happened to set off this chain of events? The warning system registered a quake of 6 on the Japanese intensity scale. This indicated moderately strong tremors were approaching, but this was the combination of 2 separate shocks. The first measuring at 3 on the Japanese scale registered off the coast of Ibaraki. Another tremor soon followed, which also measured at 3 from Toyama Prefecture.

According to the Japanese Meteorological Agency, the problem with the warning system was that 2 separate, but closely occurring incidents were processed as a single event. Thus, this prompted the false warning to go off. The Government Agency promised to investigate the malfunction, as they hope to improve the accuracy of the Earthquake warning system.

If you haven’t heard of the Earthquake warning system, this is an emergency alert that is triggered in the event of an earthquake. When the Agency predicts any shocks with a Japanese intensity scale of 5 or higher, they sound the alarm. The system will send warnings to all mobile phones, loudspeakers, radio and television stations to the regions they think may potentially be impacted. The warning will look something similar to the screenshot below:

So What Does the Alert Mean?

When translated directly, the alert means:

緊急地震速報。 (きんきゅうじしんそくほう or Kinkyu Jishin Sokuho) – An Earthquake Early Warning.

茨城沖で地震発生。(いばらきおきでじしんはっせい or Ibaraki Oki de Jishin Hassei) – There is an earthquake occurring off Ibaraki’s coast.

強い揺れに備えて下さい。 (つよいゆれにそなえてください or Tsuyoi Yure ni Sonaete Kudasai) – Please be prepared for strong shaking.

気象庁 (きしょうちょう or Ki Shou Chou) which is the name for the ‘Japanese Meteorological Agency’ (Government Department).

However, the general nuance of the alert suggests that an earthquake has occurred in close proximity to you. Therefore, as strong shaking is expected, everyone should seek shelter in a safe location. Typically, they advise to remain calm and seek shelter under something strong like a desk or table, making sure to protect your head at all times.

What To Do in the Case of an Earthquake

In the case of the false alarm, we were lucky the alert was a false warning. Yet, what exactly should you do in case of an Earthquake? The Japanese Meteorological Agency has issued a brochure on the Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) system. They advise the following actions in the case that you experience tremors or receive an EEW Alert:

For additional information, we suggest you refer to the Japanese Meteorological Agency’s website, which is also available in English.


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