Be ready for massive disasters, boost crisis management capability

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe science of the present day cannot accurately predict earthquakes. Preparations need to be made on the assumption that quakes can occur unexpectedly.

Today is Disaster Preparedness Day, and emergency training exercises will be held in various places nationwide. The government’s disaster drill assumes a case in which there is a sudden earthquake with its focus just below the surface of the Tokyo metropolitan area. During the exercise, the Prime Minister’s Office will be linked to the Chiba prefectural government office through a teleconference, where the extent of damage will be checked and the dispatch of disaster-relief personnel discussed.

In coping with a massive earthquake, such swift responses by administrative authorities are desired. To protect the lives of as many people as possible, however, it is important for ordinary households and individuals to habitually think about what they can do for that purpose.

Can people walk home from their workplaces or schools in the center of Tokyo? How can they confirm the safety of their family members? If such matters are specifically discussed in advance, there is no need to think and act in haste when a quake actually hits. It is also advisable to check such matters as whether there are sufficient emergency provisions in one’s home and whether the furniture is properly secured.

A case in point is a massive earthquake feared to occur with its focus originating in the Nankai Trough in the near future. An even greater expanse of damage will likely be caused by the earthquake than that resulting from a near-field quake in the metropolitan area. How to cope with a Nankai Trough earthquake is a very difficult problem, as there are various patterns in which it can occur.

Self-help measures vital

One possible case is a quake measuring a magnitude of 8 on the open-ended Richter scale occurring on the eastern side of the focal area. Although the possibility of a major quake also occurring on the western side of the area increases in this scenario, there is no telling when it will happen — a situation called a “half split.” Emergency information issued by the government to call for caution might be for naught on the western side of the focal area.

In tsunami-hazard areas along the Pacific Ocean, residents would evacuate. In that case, can railways and expressways be used? Will other city, town and village governments accept evacuees? There are so many uncertainties in this respect that relevant local governments are experiencing difficulties in drawing up evacuation plans.

A massive disaster can create problems that exceed the extent to which each city, town and village government can make necessary decisions on its own. The central government needs to be more actively involved in implementing such measures as facilitating wide-area evacuation systems and promoting coordination among local governments.

In recent years, flood damage has posed an even more immediate threat than earthquakes. On Aug. 28, emergency warnings about heavy rains were issued to residents in such prefectures as Saga and Fukuoka.

In May, the Edogawa Ward Office in Tokyo distributed flood-damage maps anticipating floods along the Edogawa and Arakawa rivers, telling local residents that it is dangerous to stay within the ward in such an event. The ward office urged residents to secure places to which they could evacuate by themselves, such as relatives’ homes outside the ward.

Confusion can be expected at the time of evacuation. It is important to make efforts for self-help — that is, not waiting for instructions from administrative authorities and voluntarily evacuating well before a disaster strikes.

If not only Edogawa, but also Koto and Adachi wards or elsewhere are flooded, the number of people covered by evacuation plans will reach up to 2.5 million. This will call into question Japan’s crisis management capacity on a national level. With the limits of local governments’ abilities in mind, the central government must consider necessary measures in advance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 1, 2019)Speech


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