I think everyone's hearts and prayers go out to Japan this morning after one of the largest earthquakes on record, anywhere.
One thing that struck me this morning was the low number of reported deaths (so far) particularly in one of the world's most populated cities. As of 10:00 AM PST this morning, MSNBC is reporting "hundreds" dead which is a very small number considering that the death toll from the recent Haiti earthquake (a full 1.9 magnitude smaller) has been pegged at around 47,000. The difference is staggering.
So much of this has to be tied to building codes and engineering, and the fact that we're seeing less destruction in Tokyo than one would expect after a massive earthquake like that. A large reason is that Japanese engineers design buildings with earthquakes in mind and build in the ability for buildings to "sway" and absorb the waves, rather than remain rigid and crack at movement points. Here's a great video from this morning that illustrates it perfectly:
Imagine the loss of life and property damage if just the three buildings in this video crumbled, much less the hundreds of other skyscrapers in Tokyo. It really goes to show you what kind of impact the building community can have in preparing for and preventing the worst when a natural disaster occurs. Something we should keep in mind here in San Francisco.
Good luck and god speed to all those in Japan.