Don’t rush to put out flames during quake The Yomiuri Shimbun (Jan. 21, 2012)

If you live in an apartment on a high floor, it’s safer to first take cover during a strong earthquake than to immediately extinguish a gas stove or kerosene heater, according to a survey by the Tokyo Fire Department.

The survey found that furniture and electrical appliances fell over in nearly half of the Tokyo apartments located 11 floors up or higher during the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The department believes this was the result of the “long-period earthquake ground motion” during the March 11 quake, which heightened the swaying of buildings’ higher floors. If residents on higher floors rush to extinguish flames in such a case, they could be trapped under falling furniture, it said.

The fire department is calling on people who live on higher floors to first get to safer places, such as under desks, and put out flames later.

Conducted last July on 1,206 households living in apartments and 1,224 offices in Tokyo, the survey found that furniture and electrical appliances fell down or moved widely in the apartments of 47 percent of respondents living on the 11th floor or higher.

However, only 17 percent of respondents living on first and second floors had such experiences.

Similar results were obtained for commercial buildings. Thirteen percent of respondents working on the 11th floor or higher said office appliances, such as copiers, moved more than 60 centimeters due to the earthquake. Only 4.6 percent of respondents working on first and second floors said they moved this much.

In cases of long-period earthquake ground motion, the intensity of the quake does not weaken as it moves away from its original location. When quake cycles are combined with the motion of buildings, their swaying is amplified.

In 2007, the department revised its safety rules for residents during earthquakes. Previously it encouraged residents to extinguish flames quickly, but the revised version calls for people to wait until a quake has stopped.

Tokyo Gas Co. stops gas supplies in response to an earthquake measuring around 5 or more on the Japanese intensity scale of 7. Modern oil stoves also extinguish their flames automatically when they fall down.

According to the department, fires related to gas appliances rarely occur even if residents do not immediately put out flames.

There were 32 fires in Tokyo during the Great East Japan Earthquake, but most were small and caused by such things as short-circuiting electric transformers.

However, the 2007 revisions by the department are not widely known among the public. According to a different survey conducted by the department in April among Tokyo residents, 74 percent of respondents said they put out flames in their kitchens as soon as they felt the Great East Japan Earthquake. Only 12 percent said they extinguished flames after the quake stopped.