The government said Tuesday it will introduce a new warning system from November to alert residents in Pacific coastal areas in central and southwestern parts of the country to a potential massive earthquake in the Nankai Trough.
The new warnings, based on the observation of foreshocks, will be issued by the Meteorological Agency to coastal residents when the possibility of a powerful earthquake focused on the trough heightens.
The warnings will urge residents to check evacuation routes and supplies in readiness for the quake and will be issued, for example, when an earthquake with a magnitude of 7 or more occurs along the trough or when tectonic movements are observed.
The new warning system marks the first change in some 40 years in the country’s policy to deal with large earthquakes.
The government said in 2012 that up to 300,000 people could be killed in the event of a magnitude 9 quake in the Nankai Trough, and in 2014, it outlined a 10-year program aimed at reducing casualties from such a quake by 80 percent.
The new warning system comes after a panel of experts at the government’s Central Disaster Management Council concluded in its report that “It is difficult to make a prediction (of a massive earthquake) with a high degree of certainty.”
The panel proposed the government strengthen efforts to prompt the evacuation of residents when foreshocks or tectonic movements that could lead to a massive earthquake are observed. It also recommended that monitoring activities of earthquakes and tsunami be improved.
The report was proposed to the state minister for disaster management, Hachiro Okonogi, earlier Tuesday.
Under the current Large-Scale Earthquake Countermeasures Act, compiled in 1978 to address expected earthquakes, when abnormal data are observed, a group of experts predicts if and when an quake will actually strike.
In such a scenario, the prime minister then issues a warning and can impose strict measures to mitigate damage, such as the suspension of train operations.
Local government officials in charge of disaster prevention expressed concern over the new system.
“If they say they can’t predict earthquakes, under what scenario are they going to release information and how accurate will that be?” asked an Aichi Prefectural Government official.
Meanwhile, an official from the municipal government in the town of Higashi-izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, said, “We have always thought that predictions are imperfect. We only take them as something to prepare ourselves for.”