Here
and
Now

kuchikomi

Oct 12 power blackout a reminder of worse things to come

16 Comments

On Wednesday Oct 12, a fire at a Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) facility in Niiza, Saitama Prefecture, caused widespread power outages in the greater Tokyo area, including homes and office buildings in Shinjuku, Chiyoda, Minato and eight other wards. An estimated 586,000 households were affected. While service was restored fairly quickly in most areas, numerous railway lines suffered delays well into the evening rush hour.

"The trouble hit two power grids that extend into the center of the city," the source, a reporter on the desk of a major national daily, tells Shukan Jitsuwa (Nov 3). "After about 10 minutes, customers on the Nerima route were getting power from another source. But then just after that, a fire broke out at the Toshima transformer substation and the outages spread."

The cause of the fire was determined to be due to aging cables. Some 70% of the cables that make up TEPCO's grid are said to be 35 years or older and some date back to the 1960s. Typically checks are limited only to visual inspections, and non-specialists are unlikely to spot potential problems.

The incident should be taken as a reminder that when power is cut, the functions of the city come to a dead halt. And should a major earthquake strike directly beneath Tokyo, the loss of power might unleash full-blown panic.

Among the most vulnerable would be those on life support in hospitals, such as hooked up to an artificial breathing apparatus. Depending on the capacity of their internal back-up batteries, such devices are designed to continue functioning from 10 minutes to several hours.

Actually when the power shut off on Oct 12, surgeons who were just preparing to operate on a patient at a hospital in Nerima Ward decided to postpone the procedure.

"This hospital had its own emergency power generating capability, but at most they could rely on was three hours," said a medical reporter. "Fortunately, the power was restored after about five minutes, but if the outage had lasted for several hours, the doctors would have had no choice but to postpone the operation."

When asked, for how long can Tokyo's hospitals hold out, he replied, "In the case of a major quake under the city, even a power cut of fairly short duration is likely to result in chaos."

Another cause for concern would be elevators. In 2006, a disaster prevention conference in Tokyo offered estimates that in the event of a 7.3 quake centered on the northeast quadrant of Tokyo Bay, out of the approximately 145,000 elevators in the city, the occupants in some 9,200 would be trapped inside due to the quake.

"In the case of elevators in high-tech buildings, a central computer controls operation, so the emergency exits can only be unlocked from the outside," said the aforementioned newspaper reporter. "First, custodial or security staff have to confirm what has happened and then release the elevator's brakes, and raise or lower the elevator manually and open it from outside to discharge the passengers. When some people are shut off from the outside world like that, they may suffer from panic disorder."

A belief persists that those underground are safer, because the sway of buildings tends to be less than those above ground.

"As a result of huge quake of March 11, 2011, the railway stations, utility poles and bridge struts underwent severe damage, but the subway running under Sendai City suffered hardly any damage," said a local newspaperman from northeast Japan. "But I understand such was not the case for underground stations hit by the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake of January 1995. Daikai station on the Kobe Rapid Transit Railway suffered devastating damage and didn't reopen for a year. If a quake should hit while cars were full of passengers, the tragedy would be compounded many-fold."

Regulations require stations on the Tokyo underground to have backup power.

"At the very minimum, the platforms will be provided with lighting, but the batteries will probably only keep the lights on for about 30 minutes or so," remarked Minoru Watanabe, a journalist who specializes in disaster prevention, who added, "People mobbing the exits to get to the surface will resemble scenes from hell.

"In addition to air conditioning, movement of trains underground pushes the air through the tunnels, causing it to circulate," he continued. "If the trains stop, the air is not circulated, and the density of carbon dioxide in the tunnels will soar."

According to Watanabe, tests conducted by Kobe's municipal transportation bureau determined that should power be cut during the rush hour, CO2 density would rise from an acceptable standard of 760 PPM (parts per million) to 843 PPM within just one minute. Sensitive individuals may start to exhibit reactions if the density exceeds 1,000 PPM.

Whether or not the power stays on, Shukan Jitsuwa points out, one should be prepared for a destructive earthquake in all of the ways that count.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

16 Comments
Login to comment

This writer assumes lots of people will cause full-blown panic, chaos, scenes from hell!

I believe in the last disaster to hit Tokyo, people calmly walked home. The bigger "panic" was when bits of buildings were falling off and people ran to get away; some screaming, most not. Hyperbole is this writer's friend, obviously hoping to capitalize on our fears.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

I believe in the last disaster to hit Tokyo, people calmly walked home.

1) Actually it hit Tohoku, and Tokyo was only peripherally affected.

2) People had illumination by which to calmly walk home.

3) Shukan Jitsuwa is a tabloid magazine, and is doing what comes naturally.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

NCIS: Most of my walk home was in the black of DARK.

Buildings of the peripheral sure did sway a lot. Trains of the peripheral did not have denki....so what country were you in?

Tepco needs to hire more workers and get humming.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Trains of the peripheral did not have denki

There's actually an English word for denki.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

NCIS, yes it was not directly in Tokyo, but the shaking was more than most US cities would remain standing in. As someone who was on the 26th floor of a shaking building, it was not fun and cabinets flying around did not help.

Like Ms Delicious, I walked home in mostly the dark. Trains stopped, people were injured and others fell ill due to the shaking.

I don't know where you were, but for those of us in central Tokyo, it was a very real experience.

Yes Shukan Jitsuwa is a rag, but that does not mean they could not strive for better writing.

Strangerland. Picky are we? We all knew what he meant, why do care what word he chooses?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

We all knew what he meant

Over half of Japan's readership is not in Japan. So do you really think that everyone knows what it means?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

To answer your question, on March 11, 2011 I was in Tokyo's Setagaya-ku. We had no power outages an any time, even during Tepco's load-shedding periods. I realize I was very lucky. I watched scenes from all over the city in real time on NHK and the commercial channels. West Tokyo seems to have been spared the worst of it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Laptop_Warrior

To answer your question, on March 11, 2011 I was in Tokyo's Setagaya-ku. We had no power outages an any time, even during Tepco's load-shedding periods

Boy you were lucky ! We had NO power until late at night - here in Yokohama !

0 ( +0 / -0 )

seems to be a serious lack of empathy for those that had a hard time. Just because you didn't have any problems doesn't mean nobody else did. C'mon now

0 ( +0 / -0 )

After 3/11 the problem of having two different power grid systems between western and eastern Japan "came to light."

Have they done anything to unify the two different system or figured out a way to be able to send power from east to west and vice versa?

Or is this another one of many urgent matters that gets swept under the rug and forgotten (until the next major disaster)?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Have they done anything to unify the two different system or figured out a way to be able to send power from east to west and vice versa?

To my knowledge, Kansai is still 60 Hz and Kanto 50 Hz, with the dividing line in Shizuoka Pref. Appliances with DC motors have servo circuits that can handle the difference. Appliances with timers (like washing machines or air conditioners) used to be affected, but I'm not sure if matters any more.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I am always worried about major subway lines under the capital flooding in the event of a massive earthquake.

The scenario I picture is that the subway wall is ruptured by the quake and ground water floods in... or else there is liquefaction and that somehow floods the subway system.

Is this just my imagination or could it happen?

If it did it would be horrible to be trapped in a train down there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Some 70% of the cables that make up TEPCO’s grid are said to be 35 years or older and some date back to the 1960s. Typically checks are limited only to visual inspections, and non-specialists are unlikely to spot potential problems.

Using unqualified people or like the article states "non-specialists" to inspect cables is close to if not criminal, in my opinion.

Over half of Japan's readership is not in Japan. So do you really think that everyone knows what it means?

Over half? Holy cow, you mean over 15 to 20 million people are reading this page from overseas?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I was in the Sepia tower ( 36 floor )Nihonbashi entrance of Tokyo Station when 3/11 hit. I will not go into detail but to say No One Paniced. I panic but being with people who have practice and are well verse in these events did not and this say me calm. Plus the staff in the tower assure us to stay calm and told us the procedure of getting out of the building. After I got out of the tower I was expecting kayos but what I found was people calmly lining up patiently waiting to call home on the only phones working. This reporter is not Japanese and has not been in Japan long and watch too many movies. The Japanese don,t do "going nuts" in these events quite the opposite.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Man, that WOULD totally suck to be stuck in an elevator after a big earthquake. Especially if it was crowded. I would probably lose it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

All being said, they haven't even factored in a tsunami after the earthquake. You want to talk about chaos...

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites