Sept. 1 is the 90th anniversary of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. As it is expected that a massive earthquake will hit the nation’s capital in the near future, it is important that the public and private sectors heed lessons from the 1923 quake and quickly take whatever measures are necessary. In the worst-case scenario, it is expected that a massive quake occurring in or close to Tokyo could kill more than 10,000 people, render 7 million homeless and cause ¥112 trillion in economic damage.

The lessons from the 1923 quake include the need to construct not only quake-resistant and fireproof buildings but also roads and parks that can serve as firebreaks. But areas full of wooden buildings have been developed in Tokyo in the postwar period, mainly outside the Yamanote railway loop line. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government should carry out its plan to promote road construction and to make wooden buildings more fire-resistant. The aim of the plan is to ensure that, by the end of fiscal 2020, fires would not spread easily in the wake of a strong quake.

It will be especially important to make sure that the functions of Tokyo, both government and economic, are maintained in the event of a major disaster. The central and local governments and businesses should work out solid business continuity plans (BCPs) by assessing in advance the risks of a massive quake, tsunami, flood, the spread of illness, etc. They need to work out measures to minimize damage and on how to restart operations as soon as possible on the basis of the assessment. They must decide on the most efficient use of money, personnel and limited resources.

The BCPs will also need to include where headquarters functions are to be temporarily transferred. The central government should choose a safe place where functions to supplement those of ministries and agencies will be concentrated, and carry out preparations ahead of time so it can smoothly carry out its duties in the event a major quake strikes Tokyo. In addition, the Self-Defense Forces, police and fire departments should be prepared to immediately assist with disaster-relief measures.

According to the Cabinet Office, some 70 percent of major companies, including communications, electricity and city gas companies, have worked out BPCs. But hospitals and social welfare facilities have been slow in drawing up BPCs. The government sector may want to provide incentives, including subsidies to make buildings quake-proof, for speeding up the completion of BPCs.

To make BPCs really workable, the organizations concerned should regularly carry out drills based on them and revise them as necessary. Both the government and private sectors also have to figure out how they will coordinate their efforts in communities affected by a major disaster.

After the 1923 quake hit Tokyo, wild rumors spread that Mount Fuji would erupt, that socialists would carry out attacks and that Koreans would murder, rape, burglarize and poison wells. Japanese citizens who believed such demagogy killed hundreds of Koreans and Chinese residents. If a major disaster hits, people must scrutinize the information they receive in a cool-headed manner and if necessary verify it using trusted sources.

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