National

Local leaders question effectiveness of evacuation drills amid North Korea threat

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Amid the nationwide push to prepare for a possible North Korean missile strike, there are questions about the effectiveness of carrying out evacuation drill considering the short time it takes for a missile to reach Japanese territory after launch.

On Friday, about 550 people in the Sea of Japan coastal city of Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, participated in an evacuation drill conducted under a scenario that the city received central government reports that a missile was headed its way. When the first report arrived, a siren went off and residents were told, either electronically or by town officials, to take cover in their homes, underground shelters and ditches if they were out in the fields.

“Afterward, some participants noted there was very little time to think about where to evacuate, and that they only had a few minutes to decide where to go,” said Toru Omori, a Yamagata Prefecture official in the disaster management section who was involved in the drill.

Some local leaders also indicated there were practical limitations to conducting drills at the local level.

“There is almost no way to respond. About the time when people are told to flee, the missile would have already landed,” Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido, whose prefecture borders the Sea of Japan, said last month. “So even though we’re told local governments will be notified (when a missile is launched) we don’t know where it will come from, and the government has to establish proper measures to respond.”

Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada agrees, saying that there’s not much more that can be done except take shelter underground.

“It would be different if there was a one- or two-hour advance notice (of an incoming missile),” he said in April.

But they may be a minority.

Friday’s drill in Sakata comes only five days after similar drills were held in the village of Abu, Yamaguchi Prefecture and in Ono, Fukuoka Prefecture. As North Korea continues to launch missiles into waters in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, more governors, mayors, and village heads are making plans to hold evacuation drills, concerned that their localities may be in the flight path of a missile, possibly tipped with a nuclear or chemical payload.

Nagasaki Prefecture announced Thursday it would conduct a missile evacuation drill in the city of Unzen at the end of July. Officials from Niigata, Hokkaido and six other prefectures observed the drill at Sakata and are considering instituting their own local evacuation plans in the event of a missile attack.

In addition to current central government support, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has come up with a plan proposing even more backing for local communities.

On Thursday, the LDP recommended to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that discussions should be launched on building new evacuation shelters for local governments that can be used in the event of an attack.

It also advised that, as many people are unaware of the government website that warns what to do in case of a missile alert, the government should create television infomercials that focus not only on instructing people where to take shelter, but also what to do in case missiles are carrying chemical weapons.

Still, one critic suggests the LDP, in particular, may have an ulterior motive for supporting the drills.

“I don’t deny the threat of a North Korean missile. But since Abe returned to power in 2012, he has not worked to repair relations with North or South Korea or China,” said Masahiro Yamazaki, an author who writes on war and modern Japanese and world history. “The reason is that by positioning the area around Japan as a threat from enemy countries, it’s easier to create a mood of acceptance for Abe’s political goals like constitutional revision and passage of the conspiracy bill.”