Tokyo foreigners get disaster drill


Staff Writer

A total of 150 non-Japanese took part Friday in an annual emergency drill for foreign residents in Tokyo looking to learn or reaffirm how to deal with a disaster like the one that hit March 11.

With the help of 80 volunteer translators covering eight languages, the participants went through eight simulation “zones,” including a smoke-filled house, an earthquake simulator and fire extinguisher practice, set up outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Shibuya Ward.

For the first time, the event featured an exercise on how to react during a quake measuring lower 6 on the Japanese intensity scale to 7, in which participants gathered in a room and evacuated the building with a staff member’s guidance.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has conducted such drills annually since 2006, aiming not only to beef up foreign residents’ disaster prevention knowledge but also to brush up the skills of volunteer interpreters.

As of Dec. 1, Tokyo had 407,518 registered non-Japanese residents, accounting for about 3 percent of the population.

“This is very interesting and important,” said Nikolay Shevchenko of Russia, who took part in the drill for the first time to deepen his knowledge of disaster prevention because of March 11.

“Last year’s disaster taught me (a huge quake) is not something that exists in your imagination,” he said. “It actually can happen at any time.”

Shevchenko said the event taught him new things, such as how to use a fire extinguisher.

Wu Hailiang, a 28-year-old Chinese student, also took part in the drill for the first time to prepare for a huge quake.

“I realized the importance of gaining knowledge after last year’s experience. And this (simulation) is actually fun,” Wu said after exiting the smoke-filled house simulation.

When a disaster hits, the metropolitan government will set up the Gaikokujin Saigaiji Joho Center (Disaster Information Center for Foreigners) to provide multilingual support and information.

The government will send volunteer interpreters to evacuation centers at the request of municipalities.

Tokyo had 933 registered volunteer interpreters covering 17 languages as of Jan. 4, according to the metropolitan government. After the March 11 quake, some 100 volunteers helped answer questions in eight languages through emergency hot lines the metropolitan government ran between March 21 and April 19.