National

Mount Ontake eruption sparks review of volcano disaster guidelines

Kyodo

The government says it will review volcanic disaster guidelines in order to include hikers and tourists in evacuation measures, following the deadliest eruption in decades.

The government has proposed offering real-time information on volcanic activity via smartphones at all 47 volcanoes under constant surveillance and facilitating the construction of shelters to protect people from rocks ejected by eruptions.

The current guidelines, drafted in 2008, call for local authorities and other institutions to enforce safe-distance restrictions based on a system of alerts. In a level 2 alert, hikers are advised not to approach the crater. A level 3 alert means they should not approach the mountain. The guidelines also call for the emergency information network to be reinforced by helicopters, email and other means.

However, the September eruption at Mount Ontake, which killed more than 50 people, highlighted shortcomings of the guidelines in some of the most vulnerable areas of the country. The volcano was assessed at level 1 — which means normal — when it erupted without magma.

“The existing guidelines focus on evacuation in residential areas, but there are no evacuation guidelines for hikers in the event of a sudden eruption,” a governmental official said.

According to government data, hazard maps had been prepared for only 37 of Japan’s 47 active volcanoes as of the end of March. Only 20 out of the 130 towns and villages situated in volcanic areas had detailed emergency plans ready.

But some authorities have taken measures to prepare for emergencies. The city of Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture, which is near Mount Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano, built 15 reinforced concrete shelters near the crater and along the trail. Following the disaster at Mount Ontake, the city has decided to keep helmets stocked in all of the shelters for hikers to use in case of a sudden eruption.

The city constantly monitors concentrations of volcanic gas near the crater and warns hikers to descend when it is too high above the restricted level. All announcements are made in Chinese, Korean and English. Warning signs near the crater have been rendered in several languages, according to municipal government officials.

“Tourists can stay prepared if we actively provide them with information,” said an official with the Aso Municipal Government.

In February, authorities from Shizuoka, Yamanashi and Kanagawa prefectures formulated their first emergency plan for the eruption of Mount Fuji. However, they have yet to establish an information system to warn hikers about eruption dangers.

The officials said they were considering a multilingual information system and plans to improve emergency shelters, but claimed they were “on a tight budget.”

At a meeting of the disaster prevention council made up of local tourist businesses on the Yamanashi side of Mount Fuji held on Thursday, Toshitsugu Fujii, chairman of the Meteorological Agency’s Volcanic Eruption Prediction Liaison Council, explained that Fuji has a number of craters and it is difficult to predict which crater will erupt.

Fujii asked local authorities to come up with measures on how to evacuate hikers who have little knowledge of evacuation routes.

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