Govts, firms should unite in efforts to make large cities disaster-resistant

The Yomiuri ShimbunAn earthquake that hit a year ago revealed the fragility of urban functions. In preparation for quakes that could hit large cities, it is essential to examine problems involved in such systems as transportation infrastructure and take necessary measures.

One year has passed since the northern part of Osaka Prefecture was struck by the earthquake measuring up to lower 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7. Six people were killed in the quake, including those whose deaths were associated with the quake, and more than 60,000 houses damaged in five prefectures of the Kinki region.

The quake brought down concrete and stone block walls, killing a schoolgirl and an elderly man. These structures had not been in accordance with the ordinance for enforcement of the Building Standards Law, including a height limit. A grave lesson was left.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry inspected concrete block walls around school buildings and it found safety problems at more than 12,600 schools nationwide. By utilizing central government subsidies, local governments and others should make steady progress in taking such necessary steps as replacing these walls with metal fences.

Another case in point are the dangers involved in privately owned walls built around houses. It is a fact that the realities of the situation have not been grasped. After last year’s earthquake, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry made it compulsory for the owners of such walls to measure the seismic resistance of these structures if they are built along the evacuation routes designated by local governments.

The central and local governments must step up efforts to educate the owners in this respect.

Another feature of the earthquake was that 99 percent of affected houses had “partial damage.”

The Law on Support for Reconstructing Livelihoods of Disaster Victims is not applied to such houses, meaning their owner cannot receive financial assistance under the law. The local governments in quake-hit areas established financial support systems. However, the amount of such a subsidy to each disaster victim is small, with only about 30 percent of them having applied for aid. Swift measures should be taken to make the systems well-known to disaster victims.

Create continuity plans

Some quake-stricken people are living in their damaged homes, as repair costs amount to several million yen per house. There is a limit to the extent to which public assistance can be given. Self-help efforts are also indispensable, such as making one’s house earthquake-resistant and taking out quake insurance.

Last year’s earthquake occurred during the morning rush hour as people were going to work or school, paralyzing railways and other means of transportation. Roads in the affected areas were congested with cars heading for the central parts of these places. The confusion was aggravated partly because of many people attempting to go to work.

West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) established a system by which command centers can swiftly grasp the circumstances facing each train in the event of an earthquake, so train services can be resumed.

Kansai Electric Power Co. clarified standards under which employees not responsible for an initial-stage response must come to work. Prior to this, they had been required to appear for work “as the occasion may demand,” in the event of an earthquake measuring a seismic intensity of lower 6 or greater. But this was modified to require them to abide by instructions issued by the chiefs of sections to which they belonged, if transportation means are suspended.

These examples will serve as references for other railway operators and companies.

In the event of an earthquake with its focus just below the surface of Tokyo, there is no averting a massive blow to its urban functions. It is believed that up to about 8 million people will have difficulty returning home. Further progress needs to be made in this respect, such as securing facilities for temporary stays and the storing of food.

In preparation for any disaster, it is also important for corporations to put together business continuity plans. It is said that only less than 20 percent of small and midsize companies have devised such plans. The central and local governments should hold seminars and other events to support such smaller businesses in that task.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 19, 2019)Speech


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