The Yomiuri ShimbunSecuring the safety of passengers, rather than their convenience, was given priority. So-called “planned suspensions,” in which train services are cancelled with advance notice, are apparently an effective measure to limit damage from typhoons and other disasters.
On Sunday night, East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) implemented the planned suspension measure on all conventional lines in the Tokyo metropolitan area, canceling more than 1,200 trains. This was intended to prepare for Typhoon No. 24, which swept across the Japanese archipelago. It was the first large-scale train suspension implemented in the metropolitan area.
The railway operator called on people to return home early by disseminating information with announcements over public-address systems and on bulletin boards at stations and its website, among other means. The company also sought media outlets, event organizers and other entities to help make people aware of the planned suspensions.
Department stores and restaurants closed early in light of the planned suspensions. Such moves led people to refrain from going out unnecessarily. It appears to have been effective in making many people aware of the urgency of the approaching typhoon.
As it was a Sunday night, the number of commuters was small. The rainstorm reached its peak late at night. There is no doubt that these factors were behind the lack of major confusion.
In case planned suspensions are to be implemented at a crowded time including rush hours on weekdays, a difficult decision would have to be made. Skills such as effectively transmitting information must be improved.
Early action essential
JR East announced a plan to suspend operations shortly after noon on Sunday, eight hours before the implementation of the plan. The company explained that it found it necessary to determine possible impact based on the latest information. Many people who had gone out already must have had trouble changing their schedules and other plans.
The company did not send out information through Twitter and Facebook. Social media can be powerful in the event of a disaster. It should consider taking advantage of social media.
An issue also remained for the company regarding its handling of the aftermath the following morning. JR East had announced that it would resume operations from the first trains of the day, but it took time to remove fallen trees and debris as well as to conduct safety checks. As a result, the resumption of train operations was delayed, leaving stations jammed with commuters, with many even waiting outside.
The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry and JR East will review the railway operator’s handling of this typhoon situation. Did JR East cooperate with other private railway companies sufficiently? Did appropriate information reach foreign tourists? Preparations must be made for the next occasion by remedying the problems as soon as possible.
In the Kinki area, West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) introduced large-scale planned suspensions four years ago. The company gave advance notice of canceling train services on all its conventional lines this time as well on the previous day.
Through the accumulation of experience, the public has become more aware that train services will be suspended if a powerful typhoon is approaching. An increasing number of schools cancel classes while more companies instruct their employees to stand by at home under such circumstances.
Taking early action without fear of ending in failure is an essential feature of crisis management.