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TheStreet Open House

What Investors Can Learn in Global Disasters

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- This weekend marks the three-month anniversary of earthquakes that ravaged Japan.

The disaster has long fallen from the front page of America's newspapers and top-of-the-hour broadcasts. It is not surprising that the tragic events have ceased to be top-of-mind -- American media (and consumers of it) have a notorious habit of leaping out of global coverage as quickly as they are to pile in. But there is another reason why we may not be talking much about Japan these days: the lack of drama.

Things are still in crisis mode in Japan since a massive March 11 earthquake, but the nation's stoic, get-back-to-work approach has made its recovery matter-of-fact. Americans may have something to learn from Japan's reaction.

What can Americans learn from how Japan went about life in the aftermath of the tragedy? There are a few obvious lessons, one being that nuclear power plants need to be as "earthquake proof" as possible.

Other natural disasters yield additional takeaways. A Senate hearing in September was devoted to "What the United States can Learn from the 2010 Chilean and Haitian Earthquakes."

In January of that year a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, a country described by Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., as "a very poor country with very primitive building codes and minimal response capacity." More than 230,000 people died in the disaster and another 300,000 were injured.

The following month in Chile, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake led to tsunami warnings in 53 countries (including the United States). Despite the scale, only 521 victims were killed, with testimony giving credit to the precautions and emergency plans put in place by that government.

At the Congressional hearing, experts weighed in on such topics as evacuation plans, the need for strengthened building codes and the logistics of mass shelter.

"Our goal is to make an American response look more like the results of the 2010 Chilean Earthquake and less like those of the 2010 Haitian earthquake," Pryor said. "Many Americans may be tempted to think that the U.S. could never suffer an impact like that experienced in Haiti because of our many resources ... but I ask you to remember the days following Hurricane Katrina and think again."

An alarming focus of the hearing, underscoring the need to learn from disasters abroad, is the New Madrid fault, which includes Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. One hundred years ago, a quake along that fault caused damage up to 1,000 miles away. Today, the region is home to 43 million people, and a similarly sized quake would lead to more than $300 billion in direct economic losses.

The U.S. could gain insight into pressing economic problems by learning from political upheaval around the world.

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