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AI for predicting tsunami will help prevent disasters

TOKYO >> Drawing lessons from one of the worst disasters in the nation’s history, a team of Japanese researchers is developing an artificial intelligence-based tsunami forecasting system set for release by March that could help limit loss of life and property in future calamities.

In March 2011, a massive tsunami 30 meters high triggered by a 9.1 magnitude earthquake destroyed a large swath of the Tohoku coastline, taking entire communities and businesses by surprise.

The researchers hope the new system will help municipalities and companies better prepare for future disasters and prevent related incidents, such as the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant that resulted from the tsunami.

The team, made up of researchers from risk management consultancy Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting Co. and the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience, are working on the nation’s first system for predicting the likelihood of tsunami based on location, as well as the scope of damage in areas expected to be hit.

“The existing forecasting system only estimates the maximum height of a tsunami but not its likelihood … and sometimes there are no available measures to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” said a spokesman for Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk.

He explained that the new system will provide a detailed forecast for each postal address that will enable governments, companies and other facility operators to draft effective disaster-preparedness plans and revise contingency procedures.

For instance, if a quake strikes along Japan’s coastline, a business owner can submit his address to find out the probability of a 10-foot or larger tsunami impacting his business, and the depth of any floodwater expected in the area.

“With such knowledge it will be easier to make a decision to relocate if the area is at high risk,” the spokesman said.

He also said he believes the system could help prevent disasters like the one at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The company said the system will use AI to analyze data from the government’s earthquake-prediction database, topographical data and the height of seawalls built along coastal areas.

Initially, the forecasts will be based on earthquake predictions for areas along the Nankai Trough, Japan Trench, Kuril-Kamchatka Trench and Sagami Trough, all of which are located along the Pacific coast. Researchers plan to add information for areas along the coast of the Sea of Japan.

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