Friday, September 2, 2011

02/09 Preparedness means not being surprised by disaster of any scale

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Sept. 1 is designated Disaster Prevention Day, because on that date in 1923 the Great Kanto Earthquake struck, leaving more than 100,000 people dead.

To coincide with this, disaster-management drills are being conducted in various parts of the country this week. According to data collected by the government, more than 510,000 people, including ordinary citizens, are expected to participate in such drills in Tokyo and 34 other prefectures on Sept. 1 alone.

Soon half a year will have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, which left more than 20,000 people dead or missing. Yet the road to post-disaster recovery and reconstruction remains treacherous.

In Fukushima Prefecture, where accidents occurred at a nuclear power plant, the state of disaster persists.

Nowhere in Japan, a country where natural disasters occur frequently, can be kept free of catastrophes such as earthquakes, tsunami and floods. We should learn from the latest disaster and bolster our preparedness for such events through disaster-management drills on this and other occasions.


Learning from experience

A disaster drill to be held by the central government will be based on a scenario in which a major earthquake occurs directly beneath the capital. Priorities will include confirming the safety of cabinet members and securing the means to transport relief goods to affected municipalities.

These and other points were chosen because in the wake of the March 11 quake and tsunami, emergency communication networks were cut and the transportation of relief goods was greatly delayed.

Meanwhile, local governments, including prefectural governments, plan to conduct their own practical drills.

The Osaka city government, which in past drills has emphasized the response to a major quake occurring directly under the city, will for the first time conduct a drill for evacuating primary and middle school students to the third or higher floors of school buildings in the event of tsunami.

In Kochi Prefecture, a prefecture-wide evacuation drill will be held in preparation for a possible Nankai earthquake. A record 44,000 residents are scheduled to participate.

Disaster-management drills at nuclear power plants are held every year on a particular day--separate from Disaster Prevention Day--in cooperation with the central and local governments.

But on Thursday, Chubu Electric Power Co. is conducting an independent on-site inspection at its Hamaoka nuclear power plant to check the facility's readiness to deal with major tsunami.


Utilities must take action

Other electric power companies decided not to conduct independent drills on Thursday, as they did not want their drills to coincide with those of local municipalities. Yet it is only reasonable for utilities to make efforts to boost their preparedness for a major earthquake or tsunami.

In any case, it is important that they not only conduct drills, but also analyze the results and take necessary action in response.

One area needing improvement is escape routes. In the Great East Japan Earthquake, having an escape route that was familiar and accessible made the difference between life and death for many people.

Conducting drills should be a chance to learn a thing or two about lessening the damage caused by natural disasters.

We should also learn from the wisdom of our ancestors. It may not be mere coincidence that old roads and rest towns located along the coast in Miyagi Prefecture escaped major tsunami damage.

It is said that the Japanese archipelago has entered a phase of full-fledged crustal activity. In many parts of the country, earthquakes are occurring constantly. It is feared that the Tonankai, Nankai and Tokai earthquakes may occur simultaneously, or that even larger quakes could strike.

If such an event does occur, there should be no damage that could be considered "beyond the scope of all predictions."

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 1, 2011)

(Sep. 2, 2011)

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