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Tokyo's disaster management plans need urgent upgrade

Publication Date : 21-04-2012

 

The current disaster management system for Tokyo, which experts say is at risk of being struck by a major earthquake, needs to be drastically reviewed.

In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Tokyo metropolitan government updated its estimates of the damage a major quake would cause for the first time in six years.

If a quake with its focus in northern Tokyo Bay strikes the metropolitan area, the estimated damage could cause a great number of deaths and injuries. New damage estimates show that 300,000 buildings--about 10 per cent of all buildings in Tokyo--could be destroyed by the quake or resulting fires, and about 9,700 people could be killed in the disaster.

The newly estimated death toll is about 1.5 times higher than the previous estimate of about 6,400. The predicted casualties are expected to be enormous.

Such alarming figures have come to light as the latest seismology research predicts strong quakes could occur in an area about 1.5 times greater than previously thought. If the predicted quake occurs in this area, about 70 per cent of Tokyo's 23 wards could be struck by tremors registering upper 6 or higher on the Japanese seismic intensity scale. As some areas could be hit by tremors of the highest intensity level of 7, even reinforced concrete buildings could be destroyed or damaged.

Although the quake- and fire-resistance of buildings has improved, many buildings are expected to collapse and fires are predicted to break out particularly in areas of the 23 wards with high concentrations of wooden houses.

Earlier this fiscal year, the metropolitan government introduced a program that will require residents of certain areas to make their houses fire-resistant. It intends to designate areas subject to the program as early as this summer.

The metropolitan government must steadily make preparations to reduce damage from the predicted quake.

Steps for those stranded urged

In the event of such a quake, about 3.39 million people could be forced to take shelter, mainly because their houses or apartments are badly damaged. The figure is about 10 times higher than the number of evacuees in the Great East Japan Earthquake. The new estimates also predict about 5.17 million people, such as workers in Tokyo, may be unable to return home.

To help people unable to return home, the metropolitan government last month enacted an ordinance calling on companies to store three days' worth of food and water that can be used in the event of a disaster. We hope companies will reliably comply with the ordinance. The metropolitan government should also increase cooperation with other entities, such as public transportation companies, lodging facilities and convenience stores.

We also urge the metropolitan government to consider measures to assist shoppers and tourists who are in central Tokyo at the time of a disaster.

The metropolitan government intends to work out new local disaster management plans--on which specific measures will be based--by September. With the aim of dependably minimizing damage from the quake, it must compile adequate plans.

Specific preparations are vital

Many factors are difficult to predict when estimating quake damage for a major city.

In the latest review, the metropolitan government simply listed the possible intensity of tremors in different areas. But it needs to be ready for more contingencies such as preparing for rescue and relief efforts in case community halls and other facilities, where many people gather, collapse. If a tsunami occurs in Tokyo Bay, ships could cause serious fires after being washed ashore.

High-rise buildings in central Tokyo may suffer damage from long-period ground motion, which would cause them to sway slowly and severely.

The central government also plans to draw up damage estimates for the entire Tokyo metropolitan area this winter. How can the nation maintain the operation of key government bodies, companies' headquarters and freight centers?

We hope the government will take all possible measures, including coordinated steps with Osaka and other major cities, to prevent Japan's political system and economy from being paralysed.

 

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