Beginning Aug. 30, the Meteorological Agency will introduce the use of a “special warning” designator for major natural disasters under a revision of the Meteorological Service Law, which incorporates lessons from major disasters that hit Japan in 2011. The agency and local governments should ensure that people understand the designation and are able to take timely lifesaving actions in the event of such a disaster.
The central and local governments and the private sector need to make serious efforts not to repeat the tragedies of 2011. More than 18,000 people died or went missing in the 3/11 tsunami that devastated the Tohoku coastal areas. When Typhoon No. 12 hit the Kii Peninsula in early September that year, nearly 100 people died or went missing.
Currently when flood and other warnings are issued, prefectural governments are supposed to “make efforts” to convey them to municipalities, and the municipalities are supposed to try to convey them to residents. But under the new “special warning” designation, when special warnings are issued local governments will now be obligated to make residents aware of them. A special warning will be issued when a major disaster is thought to be imminent. If a heavy rain is approaching, “information on a heavy rain” will be issued about a day before it reaches a certain area and a “heavy rain warning” will be issued several hours before it reaches the area. If it is ascertained that the rain is of an intensity that occurs once in several decades, a special warning will be issued. The Meteorological Agency will write criteria for issuing a special heavy rain warning by taking into consideration geographical features of particular areas as well as advice from prefectural governments.
Early warning for earthquakes with the intensity of 6 or greater on the Japanese scale of 7, major tsunami warnings and volcanic eruption warnings will be treated as having the same degree of urgency as a special warning for the preparation for evacuation or actual evacuation.
Local governments need to make appropriate preparations to minimize damage from massive disasters by mobilizing all available means including e-mail, electronic sign boards, public address systems and communication networks for volunteer anti-disaster organizations.
It must be noted that only 76 percent of the nation’s municipalities have administrative radio systems for disaster prevention. People should be educated not to take special warnings lightly. Quick action is indispensable to saving as many lives as possible in the event of a major disaster.