I've been glued to the news coverage of the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that hit Japan earlier today. The images are just unreal. For once the 24-hour nonstop news coverage is welcome in my living room and I am anxious for more information about what's happening in Japan and here in the United States. According to the the Toronto Sun: The magnitude-8.9 offshore quake unleashed a seven-metre tsunami and was followed for hours by more than 50 aftershocks, many of them of more than magnitude 6.0.
Death toll is still unknown, but expected to exceed 1,000. Tragic.
And of course, from a security perspective, this kind of natural disaster has serious implications as well. The biggest concern right now seems to be Japan's nuclear power plants, which may have a small radiation leak. Japan has declared its first-ever state of emergency at a nuclear plant (here's to hoping the facility has run many emergency drills). Here's what Reuters is reporting:
Japanese authorities are now warning that the pressure is still rising at the Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant after its cooling system failed. 3,000 residents are being moved out of the area after the government issued a state of emergency.
According to the Toronto Sun: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. air force had delivered coolant to avert a rise in the temperature of the facility's nuclear rods. Pressure building in the plant was set to be released soon, a move that could result in a radiation leak, officials said.
In terms of dangers to the U.S. shores, it appears the waves that reached Hawaii around 8 a.m. this morning were relatively modest, and officials have said the tsunami would only have minimal impact on the West Coast. Of course, this is good news, but many ports and critical infrastructure operations have ceased operations as a precaution. Reuters is reporting that shipping operations at the ports of Los Angeles and San Francisco were suspended as a precaution relating to the tsunami. Also, the port of Los Angeles suspended its cargo operations and the port of San Francisco suspended oil and hazardous materials transfer.
Of course, we're not out of the clear yet, but let's hope this event makes its way back to those in office currently considering budget restrictions for emergency planning and preparation funding. It's eerily coincidental that one of the first documents I read today after finding out about the earthquake and tsunami was testimony from Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, regarding legislative proposals to reform the National Flood Insurance Program.
Here's a few snippets from the transcript:
The National Flood Insurance Program serves as the foundation for national efforts to reduce the loss of life and property from flood disasters, and is estimated to save the nation $1.6 billion annually in avoided flood losses. By encouraging and supporting mitigation efforts, the NFIP leads our nation in reducing the impact of disasters. In short, the NFIP saves money and, more importantly, lives. While the NFIP has experienced significant successes since it was created more than 40 years ago, there are a number of challenges currently facing the program. The most significant challenge is balancing the program's fiscal soundness.
While this deals mostly with financial protection for individual citizens, still, it seemed ironic that this document was released at nearly the same time the West Coast was preparing for the possibility of major coastal flooding.