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Response icon Preliminary Reports from the Hyogo-ken Nambu Earthquake of January 17, 1995

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Summary of the Earthquake

Overview of Structural Damage

Geotechnical Effects

Initial Reconnaissance Efforts

Emergency Response

Social Impacts

Economic Impacts

Selected Bibliography


Societal Impacts and Emergency Response

By Joanne Nigg

The Hyogo-ken Nambu earthquake was the most damaging earthquake to effect a major urban area in Japan in 50 years. This type of earthquake and the magnitude of its consequences have not occurred in the U.S. since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. As a result, the lessons learned from this event will not only be of importance to the people of Japan but also to citizens of the United States. The observations included here were made in the first 36 hours after the event, and reflect the earliest stages of the response period.

Societal Impacts

The losses in this earthquake were extremely widespread throughout the metropolitan area of Kobe and extended to Osaka and Kyoto. These losses took place in an area that did not expect a seismic event of this magnitude or intensity. Unlike the Tokai region that has been preparing for a similar type of event, the Kansai region had not engaged in a similar level of earthquake planning and mitigation. Although recent efforts had been made to prepare the region (especially Kobe) for mud/debris-flow and flood disasters, that planning did not prepare either citizens or government for the catastrophe created by this earthquake, especially with respect to housing losses and lifeline disruption.

Human Behavioral Responses

In general, citizens were pro-social in their behavior following the earthquake. They were observed engaging in a variety of voluntary helping actions in the hours after the earthquake, including participating in search and rescue activities, fire fighting, and establishing neighborhood shelters. Courtesy and politeness were observed in terms of queuing for water, phone service, and other necessities, and in retrieving goods from partially or totally collapsed structures.

Organizational and Governmental Response

During the early hours after the earthquake, there was no apparent coordination at the "street level" of public safety and response personnel. Efforts by police, fire fighters, transportation repair personnel, and medical professionals to reach the hazard areas were further hampered by the damage to transportation systems (especially in fire spread areas).

The scope of the disaster was unclear for the first several hours after the earthquake. The number of collapsed homes and potential casualties, fire outbreaks and damages to lifelines was not widely known. This situation contributed to a lag in time of requests for assistance (especially for search and rescue) and mutual aid (for fire suppression), which made prioritizing response needs difficult.

There was no apparent attempt to control access to or movement within high hazard or severely damaged areas. Further, there was no official system in place for inspecting buildings or regulating entry into or near dangerous structures.


Some of the material reported herein is based upon work supported in whole or in part by the National Science Foundation, tbe New York State Science and Technology Foundation, the U.S. Department of Transportation and other sponsors. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of MCEER or its sponsors.

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