What We Can And Must Learn From The Great Japanese Earthquake And Tsunami Of 2011.

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by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

This week nature in all its brutal savagery punished us, hitting our brothers in Japan with an earthquake of unparalleled strength and a tsunami that was the very definition of awe.

Today the world is rightly focused on the necessary work that follows such a cataclysmic event -- there are still survivors being pulled from the rubble of their lives... there are bodies, thousands of bodies, bobbing in the surf, a sight horrible and mesmerizing.

There are the dispossessed to feed, house, and comfort. Their worlds are gone... and in that instant the great earthquake struck their worlds were eradicated. They are now strangers in a land once theirs, now crushed by the profound power of nature.

These people need assistance, and they need it now. Fortunately, the governments of this planet, and the generous peoples of the world, are reasonably equipped to handle even this severe and escalating need.

But let us be very clear with each other: this work, no matter how urgent and pressing, is not the only work to be done regarding this raw and potent occurrence; the real work will be putting this event under a microscope. For the next great earthquake, the next great tsunami is already forming... and we must be better prepared. Here, then, is what we must do.

1) We must first treat these events not merely as crises which diverted our attention and lives but as learning opportunities. We must know which preparations and responses worked and how these things could be improved. We must also be clear on what went wrong, in each and every aspect of the matter. Those who ignore the lessons of the past are compelled to relive its horrors, unnecessarily so.

2) There must be a review of all in place tsunami reporting methods. Every time we improve our warning systems, by even a single minute, the lives of real people are saved. Thus, we must be certain that the latest tsunami warning technologies are in place and that adequate provision has been made for their improvement.

3) The world's nuclear nations must gather, with grave and serious intent, to review in the most minute detail, each and every nuclear installation on this planet. This scrutiny must be scientific, dispassionate, thorough.

The events of this week in Japan will undoubtedly fuel acute hostility to nuclear power. Many will wish, indeed insist, on throwing the baby of nuclear power out with its bath water. Now is the moment when calmer heads must prevail.

The great nations, you see, rely upon this power source. The question should be how to ensure its safety, not how to facilitate its removal. Now, then, is the right and proper moment to review, in full detail, each aspect of each facility. These facilities were created with human limitations. Today, therefore, some of these facilities are at more risk than others. So, let us resolve, not to condemn, but to scrutinize and improve.

4) Communications must be better understood and improved. Leaders of the world must understand and review their role in the dissemination of crucial details. Questions about what information should be distributed and how are far too important to be left to commercial news media, which have different objectives.

The minute the earthquake happened, the minute the tsunami occurred, the Internet was full of concern, anxiety -- and waves of disinformation which continue to this minute.

This was the moment for President Obama and other world leaders to take control of the story... and, understanding the anxiety of the people, to assuage it with up-to-the-minute accuracies; timely facts, not sound bites from off-the-cuff pundits.

This did not happen and as a result there were moments approaching hysteria not merely in Japan but around Asia to Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States. There is absolutely no excuse for this. Ronald Reagan was called the Great Communicator... but every president and head of state must be such a practised communicator and must never merely allow the news media to follow their natural bent.

These media want the lurid, the melodramatic, the ghastly and horrifying. Leaders want to inform and calm the people, never inflame them. But we had too little such leadership and such communications to the people on this occasion. Into such a void, it is easy for Chicken Little to rise and frighten. President Obama let this happen... and he must accept responsibility for a lack of leadership that resulted in much avoidable pain and agitation.

Why didn't he use his powers to calm the nation? It seems to me an address to America was well and truly necessary. The president could and should have understood what people were feeling and taken action to inform and comfort them, minimizing the dread and uncertainty when the subject turns to nuclear power and the unseen killer that is radioactivity.

The president no doubt knowing these things slept soundly. His citizens, assailed by the endless drumbeat of horrible details, did not. Second terms have been derailed for less... and rightly so.

What is occurring now is not merely a Japanese issue, an Asian issue, an American issue. It is an issue of worldwide importance, one affecting not merely our comfort and security today, but the very essence and maintenance of our civilization.

That is why the people, unsettled, inadequately and confusingly informed, cry out for Leadership as today's headlines blare: "U.S. shows growing alarm over Japan nuclear crisis." (March 17, 2011.)

For days now, the news media of the world have dished out a diet of alarm along with ersatz "experts", old and stale "facts", slip shod analysis and details which do everything except inform and assure. It has been an embarrassment on a cosmic scale... and it was all avoidable if the officials at the highest reaches of government had been clear on the objective: keeping us all reliably and timely informed.

Meanwhile the situation in Japan continues to deteriorate as we all, every last one of us, wonder about what will happen next. And whether, once this series of interlocking crises has passed, the leaders of the world will remember their charge: to do what's necessary to solve the problem, not merely apply a patch and be glad they'll be out of office when the next such crisis hits. God help us all should we get no better service than that.

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