24% of coastal municipalities lack plans for issuing evacuation alerts

Kyodo

Around 24 percent of municipalities nationwide that could be struck by tsunami had no guidelines for issuing evacuation advisories to residents as of November, a recent survey by a government agency shows.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency, under the internal affairs ministry, said Tuesday it will call on local governments to draw up guidelines as soon as possible to avoid delays in issuing warnings in the event of natural disasters.

The agency’s survey showed that 158 out of 664 municipalities covered lacked guidelines. Of the 158 municipalities, 116 said they were in the process of drafting guidelines and 42 said they had yet to start the process. Some municipalities said a shortage of employees or a lack of specialized knowledge among local officials was slowing the process.

The survey also found that 30 percent, or 525 out of 1742 municipalities that could be affected by flooding, had no guidelines for issuing evacuation advisories.

Tsunami warning change

An expert panel under the Meteorological Agency has proposed using words such as “gigantic” or “high” when issuing the first tsunami warning after a earthquake exceeding magnitude 8.0, as well as phrases to urge residents to evacuate immediately.

At present, the agency issues its first warning within three minutes of a quake striking and indicates the expected height of tsunami. But the panel headed by Katsuyuki Abe, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, determined it is impossible to calculate the figure precisely in such a short time span following a colossal quake.

Therefore, instead of forecasting the height of tsunami the agency should use descriptions such as “gigantic” or “high” and add warnings such as “there are fears of devastating damage” or “evacuate to safe places, such as upland, immediately,” the panel said Tuesday.

The agency plans to improve its warning issuance system by the end of this year, based on the panel’s proposal.

The proposal follows criticism that the agency underestimated tsunami heights in the March 11 disaster, slowing resident evacuations in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures and costing many lives.

Abe said Tuesday the lesson of the March disaster is that residents can survive if they escape quickly in the event of tsunami.