I commend Japan’s governors for working together to address disaster preparedness (“Governors adopt declaration on disaster readiness,” July 28).

However, having visited Japan for over 20 years teaching and studying disaster management, I have noted several key problem areas which I recommend the governors consider with regard to disaster preparedness.

First, interagency coordination. In a major incident like the triple disaster in March 2011, numerous agencies must quickly work together, but Japanese government agencies are often unfamiliar with each other’s plans and operations. This delays and impedes rapid cooperation. Agencies need to meet and discuss their disaster plans with each other before disaster strikes, and they need to do this year-round, not just once a year at the annual disaster drill.

Second, lack of professional disaster managers. Japanese disaster management staff generally serve in that capacity for just two years before rotating to different government jobs. This means personnel trying to manage a disaster response have had little or no experience in doing so. Japan has professional staff in the fire service, police, the SDF, the medical field and other key areas. Why not also have professional staff in disaster management?

Third, use of volunteers. The voluntary sector in Japan has been growing rapidly, and volunteers can make a valuable contribution to disaster response. However, I have yet to see any detailed government plans for using volunteers. Trying to incorporate volunteers into the response after the disaster occurs can be confusing and inefficient. Why not make plans for doing this ahead of time and be ready when the disaster occurs?

I hope Japan can strengthen its disaster management system in these and other areas. Let’s be prepared for the next one.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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