The National Police Agency on July 24 released a fiscal 2012 white book that contained a section titled “Large-scale disasters and the police” at its outset. The section details what actions the police took when the earthquake and tsunami devastated the Tohoku coastal region on March 11, 2011, and the lessons learned from that experience.
Along with the Self-Defense Forces and fire departments, the police play an important role in helping to reduce the damage caused by disasters and rescuing victims. People have high expectations of the police during difficult times.
It is important that the police improve their organizational efficiency and increase the number of personnel who can be mobilized during disasters.
Nearly 16,000 people were killed during the 3/11 disasters and some 2,900 people remain missing. Among the dead are 25 police officers and five others are still missing. The police — and other organizations for that matter — have a responsibility to utilize the lessons of 3/11 to better prepare for future disasters.
On March 11, wireless communications for disaster prevention did not work properly and many cars were seen heading toward the sea. One of the major tasks for the police in the event a massive quake occurs in the Nankai ocean trough subduction zone and close to Tokyo will be to disperse accurate information and instructions to local residents and quickly lead them to safety.
According to the annual report, the police rescued some 3,750 people in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures during the 3/11 disasters. They also searched for missing people and examined and identified those who died.
As the number of local police officers available to carry out these duties was insufficient, they were joined by wide-area emergency aid units composed of police officers from various parts of Japan and rapid reaction units, including an air-transport unit.
When the 3/11 disasters hit, the rapid reaction units had a maximum 6,400 officers, but the police suffered from a shortage of personnel for rescue work, and examination and identification of the dead. The NPA has responded by increasing the size of the units to more than 10,000 officers. It has also inaugurated units that will be dispatched long-term to disaster areas.
These are reasonable steps. It is hoped that the police will further improve these units.
The Fukushima nuclear crisis has added a new dimension to the task of the police. They should cooperate with the planned Nuclear Regulatory Commission, power companies and local governments to work out effective evacuation plans in the event of a nuclear accident by thoroughly reviewing current transport, training and other programs.