National

Japan aims to boost disaster response with more efficient TEC Force

JIJI

The land ministry is establishing a system to allow for the quick dispatch of workers with civil engineering and other expertise to areas hit by natural disasters, after a succession of torrential downpours and other large-scale calamities hit the nation in recent years.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry set up an organ in each of its nine regional development bureaus from Hokkaido to Kyushu in the current fiscal year to coordinate the expedited dispatch and training of members of the Technical Emergency Control Force.

The TEC Force specialist group, which was created to quickly provide technical assistance to local governments affected by large-scale disasters, is tasked with assessing damage and implementing restoration work. It marked its 10th anniversary last year.

As of April, it had 12,654 registered members, many of whom are officials of regional development bureaus.

A total of 80,000 members have so far been sent to areas damaged by more than 90 major disasters, including the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Reflecting the recent increase in the number of large-scale disasters, members are sent to affected areas roughly 10 times per year, about double the annual figure when the force was established.

At first, the TEC Force provided assistance at the request of local governments, but after the March 2011 disaster, it began offering large-scale support immediately after disasters.

The number of personnel at regional development bureaus has continued to fall, making it difficult for those involved in developing and managing rivers, roads and other forms of infrastructure to concurrently serve as managers of TEC Force members.

To address this, the ministry in April spun off disaster-related sections at the regional bureaus to take charge of the TEC Force members. Each regional bureau now has a specialized team of about 20 for the task.

When a disaster occurs, the team makes the necessary arrangements with local governments, police and fire authorities, the Self-Defense Forces and other organizations or agencies to dispatch TEC Force members. When not responding to a disaster, members conduct training and educational programs.

In a related development, the government will hasten the process for designating seriously damaged areas as being eligible for larger state subsidies in order to facilitate their reconstruction. The ministry believes the swift dispatch of the TEC Force will help facilitate the survey work needed for the designation, ministry officials said.

The ministry is also considering adding specialists from the private sector to the TEC Force, such as engineers with architectural and land-surveying experience.

The TEC Force “needs more members if the possibility of large-scale disasters, such as a quake originating in the Nankai Trough, is taken into account,” a ministry official said, referring to the trough located off the Pacific coast.

The ministry plans to work out a set of specific measures to reinforce the TEC Force, including a new program to train members, starting in fiscal 2020.