Vulnerability of elevators to quakes latest concern for Tokyo residents

JIJI

Local governments in the Tokyo area are beginning to help stockpile drinking water in elevators operating in condominium and other buildings and equip them with portable toilets to help people trapped by earthquakes.

As many as 17,000 people could be trapped in elevators should an earthquake with a magnitude of around 7 strike Tokyo and knock out the electricity, according to a government panel.

About 60 percent of all elevators in Japan are designed to stop at the nearest floor and open the door automatically if a certain intensity of shock from a quake is detected.

According to the Central Disaster Management Council, people were stuck in elevators in at least 84 locations in Tokyo following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In some cases, they weren’t rescued for more than nine hours.

There are around 150,000 elevators in Tokyo, the Japan Elevator Association says. According to Tokyo Kantei Co., a real estate research company, the number of condominium buildings in Tokyo with 20 floors or more above ground came to 308 as of the end of November, up from 73 in 2000.

The proliferation of high-rises and the aging of residents mean heavier reliance on elevators. At the request of condominium management associations, Chiyoda Ward has started providing water, blankets and emergency boxes that double as toilets for use inside elevators.

The Itabashi Ward office plans to equip 160 elevators in public facilities with such emergency boxes by April 1.

The government panel also anticipates a large number of “upper-floor refugees,” or residents of high-rise buildings likely to be stuck high up without water and electricity if their elevators stop working. Stockpiling food and drinking water for them is a new challenge.