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Going out? Got your emergency supplies?

Eiji Hirabayashi of the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution in Kobe displays emergency supplies he usually carries around. “I’ve checked how much I can carry,” he said. (PHOTO BY THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN)

Publication Date : 18-10-2012


Whenever Mami Tomikawa goes out, she is prepared for a disaster.

Tomikawa, an illustrator from Musashino, Tokyo, always carries snacks, a map and a card with emergency contact information, including details of her daughter's kindergarten.

"My daughter carries the same card so it'll be easier to contact each other in an emergency," said Tomikawa, 34, who assists disaster prevention seminars for parents and children.

Tomikawa is one of the growing number of people who carry emergency supplies when they leave home. Interest in portable supplies has risen as awareness has grown that a major earthquake or other disaster could happen anytime, and such items are selling well at large variety stores.

In March, the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution, which educates people about disaster management and prevention, unveiled a list of portable goods and items that form a useful--and reassuring--emergency supply kit.

The "Zeroji no sonae" (zero preparation) list includes drinking water, nutritional candies and a small flashlight.

The Kobe-based institution initially made two lists--"Ichiji no sonae" (primary preparation) and "Niji no sonae" (secondary preparation). The first recommends items that should be taken when leaving home after a disaster, while the latter consisted of goods needed for getting by for several days.

The zero list was compiled based on the experience of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that occurred on a weekday afternoon, when many people were away from home, unlike the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake that hit early in the morning.

A study panel, whose members included housewives and senior citizens, discussed the contents of the list for six months. They bounced ideas off each other, and came up with suggestions such as keeping a supply of 10 yen coins (for public phones if cell phone networks are down) and preparing emergency food that people are used to eating.

Eiji Hirabayashi, planning director at the institution, said the list is merely a recommendation, and not every item needs to be carried around.

"As much as possible, select items according to your lifestyle and needs," Hirabayashi said.

A card-type portable radio, which is lighter than a regular radio, can reduce the weight of an emergency supplies pack. Rain gear and portable pocket warmers are useful when the weather suddenly changes for the worse.

Recent predictions that a major earthquake will directly hit Tokyo in the next few years made plenty of headlines. Since then, portable emergency supplies have been flying off store shelves.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tokyu Hands' branch in Shibuya, Tokyo, set up a corner displaying portable emergency supplies. The store said whistles used to call for help have sold especially well.

Many whistles can be used as cell phone straps or key chains, and some have small LED lights attached.

"The lights are useful when you have to check a map or look around during a blackout while you're away from home," a Tokyu Hands official said. "Whistles with various functions seem to be popular."

Customers also are opening their wallets for a portable poncho that can be folded up until it fits in the palm of your hand, aluminum sheets that help keep out the cold and portable folded latrines.

Tokie Matsushita, a 39-year-old mother of two from Nakano Ward, Tokyo, carries around bandages, absorbent cotton and other first aid supplies as well as drinking water and snacks when she goes out.

Moving around with strollers for her 4-year-old and 1-year-old children could be difficult when a disaster strikes, so Matsushita always carries a baby sling.

According to Hirabayashi, planning in advance can be the best defense after the unexpected happens.

"It's important to discuss not only emergency supplies but also evacuation routes, ways to get home and where family members should assemble," he said. "Just imagine what might happen if disaster strikes when you're away from home."


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