Nankai quake preparedness

Apanel of the Cabinet Office on May 28 issued a final report on measures to cope with the effects of a massive earthquake expected to occur in the Nankai Trough, which lies in the seabed in the Pacific Ocean off Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, running from Suruga Bay off Shizuoka Prefecture to the Hyuga-Nada sea off Miyazaki Prefecture.

It is important for the central and local governments, business enterprises, local communities and households to adopt whatever steps they can take to reduce damage from the quake and tsunami caused by it. It is expected that the quake and tsunami will kill up to 323,000 people and cause ¥220 trillion in economic damage.

It is also estimated that one week after the major temblor, there could be up to 9.5 million evacuees, with 5 million of them staying in evacuation shelters.

One of the report’s main points is a call for putting priority on vulnerable groups of citizens, such as the homeless, elderly and disabled when providing space in shelters. Giving priority to these people as well as those who have lost their homes is a reasonable approach. Local governments are supposed to ask people to return to their homes if damage is light. But officials may have difficulty in judging whether such people will be safe as damage caused by aftershocks cannot be predicted. The central government may need to work out detailed criteria for triage.

The government should focus on making housing structures and other buildings quake-resistant so people will not have to come to evacuation shelters when disaster strikes. The public sector should provide financial assistance to homeowners for this purpose.

As the report suggests, it will be important to relocate in advance public facilities such as local government offices, hospitals and schools to areas safe from tsunamis.

The report estimates that up to 623,000 people will be injured and that up to 311,000 people will not be able to escape on their own due to structural damage. Local governments should prepare to establish emergency field hospitals and work out plans to rescue people trapped inside damaged structures. They also should store sufficient supplies of food and water in public facilities, including schools and public halls.

A by-law of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which went into force in April, obliges business enterprises to keep three days’ worth of food and water.

The report calls on households to store at least a week’s worth of emergency food and water rather than three days as has been the standard practice until now. Households should heed the report’s call as doing so will make it much easier for the central and local governments to concentrate on rescue activities and medical treatment for disaster victims.