Only 10 percent of buildings along important roads in Tokyo have been checked for earthquake resistance, according to officials at the metropolitan government’s Bureau of Urban Development. If buildings are not upgraded to higher safety standards, many vital roads and highways in the Tokyo region could become blocked if a serious earthquake hits. The lack of critical routes would severely obstruct emergency lifesaving efforts in the aftermath of such a quake.

In the Tokyo area, certain main roads and highways, such as the Metropolitan Expressway, Koshu Kaido (Route 20) and Kannana and Kanpachi (Ring Roads Nos. 7 and 8), among others, are designated as specific emergency transportation roads. They circle the central Tokyo area and run north-south and east-west through the city. Keeping them open is critical to ensure that emergency vehicles can perform essential services if a major quake hits Tokyo.

The metropolitan government, rightly, has mandated inspections for buildings near or along those routes, but even after a three-year subsidy program was initiated in fiscal 2011, not enough owners of these buildings have carried out the inspections. The ordinance allows the metropolitan government to publicize the names of buildings and owners, and to impose fines. Public notification of which buildings have not been inspected may be the only way to shame some owners into undertaking this crucial safety step.

The issue of private property and personal ownership should be respected. However, individual owners also need to respect their social obligations. The subsidies offered by the metropolitan government may have been insufficient to cover all costs. Such is the problem of building ownership. Those owners who have not conducted inspections should do them immediately. Residents of such buildings should also demand compliance.

In April, the metropolitan government revised its estimates of damage predictions in the event of a larger magnitude earthquake. The new prediction is based on a more realistic understanding of scientific data. Consequently, the number of buildings in Tokyo now expected to be destroyed is nearly double previous estimates.

The time to inspect and upgrade buildings built according to earlier standards is now. If uninspected buildings block major routes for firefighting equipment, emergency vehicles and other crucial transportation, it will, of course, be too late to do anything.

As the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami tragically revealed, transportation is one of the most crucial necessities after a disaster strikes. Everything depends on open routes. To ensure public safety in the event of a future earthquake, buildings should be inspected and brought up to code now.

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