An expatriate working in Japan gives his estimate of Japan’s response to their tsunami/earthquake disaster combo, via Jerry Pournelle’s View:
“Let’s talk about trains for a second. Four of them were washed away by the tsunami. All of the rest — including ones travelling in excess of 150 miles per hour — made immediate emergency stops and no one died. There were no derailments. There were no collisions. There was no loss of control. The story of Japanese railways during the earthquake and tsunami is the story of an unceasing drumbeat of everything going right.
“This was largely the story up and down Honshu. Planes stayed in the sky. Buildings stayed standing. Civil order continued uninterrupted.
“On the train line between Ogaki and Nagoya, one passes dozens of factories, including notably a beer distillery which holds beer in pressure tanks painted to look like gigantic beer bottles. Many of these factories have large amounts of extraordinarily dangerous chemicals maintained, at all times, in conditions which would resemble fuel-air bombs if they had a trigger attached to them. None of them blew up. There was a handful of very photogenic failures out east, which is an occupational hazard of dealing with large quantities of things that have a strongly adversarial response to materials like oxygen, water, and chemists. We’re not going to stop doing that because modern civilization and its luxuries like cars, medicine, and food are dependent on industry.
“The overwhelming response of Japanese engineering to the challenge posed by an earthquake larger than any in the last century was to function exactly as designed. Millions of people are alive right now because the system worked and the system worked and the system worked.
“That this happened was, I say with no hint of exaggeration, one of the triumphs of human civilization.
“…honestly, screw luck. Luck had absolutely nothing to do with it. Decades of good engineering, planning, and following the bloody checklist are why this was a serious disaster and not a nation-ending catastrophe like it would have been in many, many other places…
“Japan’s economy just got a serious monkey wrench thrown into it, but it will be back up to speed fairly quickly.”