Following discussions in the wake of the March 11 quake and tsunami, an experts’ panel of the Central Disaster Management Council submitted its final report to post-disaster reconstruction minister Tatsuo Hirano in late September. The report called on the central and local governments to drastically review their disaster prevention programs to prepare for future large-scale quakes and tsunami.

The panel stressed that Japan from now on should take into account the strongest-class quakes whose probability is once in a thousand years as well damage to high-rise buildings, oil-storage tanks and other structures caused by long-cycle vibrations, fires or ground liquefaction in locations more remote from earthquake epicenters.

It has pointed out that tsunami can be caused not only by quakes that occur in the Japan Trench such as the March 11 temblor but also by quakes caused by an oceanic plate shifting beneath a continental plate. It also called for assuming that a magnitude 8-class quake, rather than a magnitude 7-class quake, would occur beneath the Tokyo area, and that massive quakes would strike simultaneously or consecutively off Shizuoka Prefecture, the Kii Peninsula and Shikoku.

The central and local governments will have to completely revise their estimates of damage from future major quakes and tsunami and their plans to cope with them. The central government should submit a revision of the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Law to the Diet next year and set aside funds for reinforcing Japan against such disasters in a concentrated manner over the coming few years.

The panel said that in areas where time lags between a quake and tsunami are short, communities should be designed so that people can flee to safe places within five minutes after a quake has struck. This entails improving escape roads, preparing buildings for evacuation and building administrative offices, welfare facilities and hospitals in safe areas. The panel also called for improving tsunami warnings, including e-mailing alerts to cell phones.

The central government should provide financially support to local governments to facilitate the implementation of the panel’s proposals. Local governments and residents should work together to draw up concrete evacuation plans in advance and include provisions for helping those citizens who would require assistance.

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