Scary sound, but I am really greatful: Earthquake early-warning system

No matter how your setting is on your mobile phone (at least on most newer mobile phones) the sound of the loud and shrill “ring, ring, ring, ring” message pushes your adrenaline flow to the maximum. Automatically now I check my mobile phone for the early warning message about which prefecture in Japan just had an earthquake and my mind is fully alert for the search of a safe spot. The origin of the quake and the distance to my own location gives me an idea on how soon I have to be ready. Although not all the time when the warning system goes off a stronger earthquake is felt and I might experience some unnecessary stress, still I am truly very grateful for the warning system.
It seems that Japan has spent loads of money in the past 15 years into building an earthquake early-warning system. The set up is with a network of seismometers across the country. When a seismometer detects the initial shockwave of an earthquake, computers quickly calculate how powerful the second wave could be and if it meets a certain threshold, an alarm is sounded. Televisions, radios and newer cell phones all get the same message within seconds.
To be honest I hate this sound, because I even unconsciously know something potentially bad is going to have very, very soon. For sure I am fully alert and active for what might come. As soon as I can feel the ground shaking I am grateful and amazed about the technology. So when after a few seconds nothing really happens, instead of complaining I remind myself that I prefer to be pushed too many times into panic mood over nothing, then being completely unaware like on March 11th (received the message hours later due to mobile network breakdown). On the other hand, for sure I had a big smile today on my face when the alarm went off, because I just had left an elevator on the way down.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

10 thoughts on “Scary sound, but I am really greatful: Earthquake early-warning system

  1. Thanks for posting a picture of your phone with the EEW displayed. In this instance, how far are you from the location of the quake?

    • Dear Patrick,

      thank you very much for your comment. As quite some time has passed since I had received the warning email it is difficult to check the exact location of the earthquake now. From the display you can see the earthquake was detected in Fukushima and I had been in Shinagawa Tokyo so I can only assume I had been about 250km away, but this is a very rough estimation.
      Hope this helps,


  2. Thank you for writing about the alarm- I thought I was the only one affected by it. While I agree the technology is amazing, the fact that you only have about 10 seconds to ‘prepare’ just increases the feeling of utter helplessness for me. That sound will haunt me forever. When it goes off, I freeze, my heart rate increases and my hands start trembling-there is no way I could act calmly should another large quake hit us.
    I’ve been in Japan for years, felt countless tremors but March 11 changed everything for me. On the one hand, my affection for the country and its people hasn’t waned but my feelings of safety and happiness here have gone-that pains me and I would love to get that back…but not while that warning alarm is controlling my life.

    • Dear Yowamushi,

      thanks for your time visiting this blog and furthermore adding your comment.
      For sure this alarm sound will stay with me forever. Honestly I don’t think there are 10 seconds left to get ready, but at the same time it is enough to get your heart pumping to be absolutely fully alert for whatever might come. In case if you are freezing next time again, try to remember me and smile. For sure I am somewhere as well getting ready to be active.
      So far my feeling of safety has not changed unless I think about going to beach to relax and gain some inner peace while staring out into the Ocean. For sure I have right now no desire to see the Ocean, furthermore I feel I have lost a sure place where I can get peaceful energy. I guess it will take a while until I will be smiling at the beach again.

      All the best and let’s smile next time when the alarm goes off!


  3. I am glad I stopped by. Earthquakes! Yicks, we don’t have much here in chicago IL. You should contribute to the magazine.

  4. This is SOO personal, but here I thought, I was handling this stress quite well, slight panic stress, but other than that OKAY, but my period has been SOOO off since March 11th… getting back on track has been so tough because I feel we just keep getting one after another, after another.. I have had to tune out all news, hopefully my daily cardio will help abate any of the stress related from this situation and I’ll be able cruise the crimson wave soon and get back to being regular. P.S. that warning sound it really eery…

    p.s.s. would it sound like I’m one chicken if I say, everyday I take the elevator at home and it makes me nervous… I only have three floors to go up to the car lot but still…

    • Dear Elle Marie,

      thanks for sharing. I truly appreciate your honesty.

      For me personally there is the time before March 11, then somehow a gap and then I ended up finding myself already in April. This kind of events affect us all, much more than we wish it. All of the sudden we are forced to face mortality: our beloved one’s and our own death. There is no jumping back to the “old” normal, because the “old normal” does not exist anymore. For me the unforgetable events in my life were: by chance escaping a car accident as a child, experiencing in Europe Chernobyl, a huge fire in the middle of the town I was living in Switzerland, in California 9/11… and now March 11, 2011. All this will stay with me forever.
      At the same time, I am grateful for this experience (of course not all the human tragedy), because it shows me where my heart/home is: Tokyo. Additionally it forces me to focus on what is really important for me in life. I feel a strong sense of duty to give my best at work to create the very much needed turnover in Japan, care about people around me and make sure I can put a smile on their faces.

      Yes, I hate hearing the alarm, but I am grateful that I am allowed to experience this unique moment in history in Japan. Let’s make sure for every second we feel scared, we make sure that we can let someone else feel truly happy. It is our chance to reconnect!

      All the best,


  5. Hi Sibylle. I enjoyed reading your stories about life in Japan. I am starting up a magazine blog called “A Hopeful Sign” and wondering if you would like to contribute to it.

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