National | Regional Voices: Hokkaido

Sapporo group to equip emergency shelter for people with special needs

Hokkaido Shimbun

A Sapporo-based association providing support to people with rare and intractable diseases is planning to establish its own shelter early next year allowing people with special needs to find a safe place in the event of an emergency.

The group came up with the idea based on lessons from a magnitude 6.7 quake that hit Hokkaido on Sept. 6, 2018, with the epicenter in the eastern Iburi region. The quake posed unique challenges to people with disabilities, many of whom faced additional inconvenience at standard evacuation centers that were unprepared to cater to people with special needs.

The group plans to set up an evacuation center at a facility for patients with intractable diseases, aiming to prepare space for 50 people.

The facility, Hokkaido Nanbyo Center (Hokkaido intractable disease center), which is owned by the prefectural government and managed by the association, is located in Chuo Ward in the city. So far it has been used to offer lower-cost care to patients with such diseases from outside Sapporo, who visit to undergo treatment.

The three-story concrete building with a floor space of 1,419 square meters has seven rooms that can accommodate a total of 24 people. It is equipped with beds, toilets and bathtubs that can be used by people with disabilities.

During last year’s earthquake, 12 people were staying at the facility when it lost power and water. Putting the patients’ safety first, the operator transported them to a nearby elementary school, but the conditions were harsh for people with disabilities and one of the evacuees was brought back to the center soon after power was restored.

“We weren’t able to ensure the safety of our facility and had to ask them to move to an evacuation shelter,” said Yasuko Masuda, 60, who heads the association. “We don’t want history to repeat itself.”

In an emergency, people who require special help must first visit a nearby emergency shelter — usually set up in a local elementary school — from where they may be directed by social workers to welfare evacuation centers designed for people including the elderly, pregnant women and people with disabilities.

The association hopes to set up an emergency shelter especially for people with special needs, where such people can go directly to take shelter when emergencies occur.

It will be the first such facility in Sapporo, according to the municipal government’s public health and welfare division.

The renovation of the facility, which will cost ¥28.96 million, will be funded by the prefectural government.

The facility has already been renovated to be equipped with emergency power and water supply systems, as well as safe evacuation routes. In addition to the emergency power generator, the facility will have portable toilets, beds and bedding as well as water stored for emergencies.

The association also plans to compile by the end of the year a business continuity plan for recovery procedures following disasters.

In the event of an emergency, not only bedrooms but all rooms — including those used for meetings or furnished in Japanese-style with tatami mats — will be used to accommodate evacuees.

The group said it will be able to start accepting evacuees with special needs early next year, soon after construction work is completed.

It is also preparing to sign an agreement with the Sapporo Municipal Government, aiming to become one of Sapporo’s designated welfare emergency shelters in order to improve assistance for people with special needs.

This section features topics and issues from Hokkaido covered by the Hokkaido Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the prefecture. The original article was published on Sept. 4.