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The importance of evacuation plans

September 1, 2016

EDITORIAL: Typhoon No. 10 underscores the importance of evacuation plans



Typhoon No. 10 left behind a trail of destruction in northern parts of Japan, leaving us to wonder if there was no way to save the victims.

It is distressing to know that people fell victim to the destructive force of huge masses of water despite repeated warnings about the danger.

In Hokkaido, Iwate Prefecture and other parts of northern Japan, wide areas were inundated after hours of fierce rainstorms. In many of the areas, rivers burst their banks, causing floods.

Nine residents were found dead at a nursing home for elderly people in Iwaizumi, Iwate Prefecture, on Aug. 31 after the facility was deluged by mud from an overflowing river.

Drifting logs reached the roof of the one-story building, and the windows were mostly buried by brownish dirt. The picture of the inundated nursing home speaks volumes about the unbridled violence of raging muddy rivers.

People showing symptoms of dementia were living together at the home.

The tragedy has raised some questions. Was there an effective emergency evacuation plan for the residents? How did the workers at the facility respond to the situation? Were the people at the home sufficiently aware of the danger?

In an adjacent rehabilitation center for elderly people, nobody was killed because all residents took refuge in the upper floors of the three-story building. What difference was there in the safety situations of the two facilities?

The operator of the facility and the local government should make careful investigations into the disaster to find answers to these questions and glean lessons from the tragedy.

In ordinary circumstances, the risk of flooding rises sharply when rainfall surpasses 50 millimeters an hour. In Iwaizumi, rainfall of 70 mm an hour was recorded in the evening of Aug. 30. The cumulative rainfall since Aug. 29 reached 250 mm.

The tragedy came as a fresh reminder of the importance of early evacuation before nightfall.

It has been repeatedly pointed out that such disasters tend to cause a heavy death toll among elderly and disabled people who have difficulty evacuating on their own.

In 2006, the government established guidelines for supporting evacuations of people who require assistance during disasters.

In 2013, the disaster countermeasures basic law was revised to require local governments to compile lists of people living in their respective areas who are vulnerable in disasters. Local governments have also been urged to develop separate evacuation plans for these people.

The nursing-care insurance program requires group homes and homes for elderly people requiring special care to craft evacuation plans and ensure the procedures are known and understood by all employees.

The program has also made it mandatory for these facilities to conduct evacuation drills.

These efforts to improve preparedness for disasters are important. But the question is whether the measures are designed to ensure effective responses to actual disasters.

Many welfare facilities are located in areas vulnerable to landslides, such as hilly and mountainous locations where it is relatively easy to procure land plots for such facilities.

In 2009, torrential downpours in the Chugoku and Kyushu regions triggered a mudflow in Yamaguchi Prefecture that hit a home for elderly people requiring special care, resulting in seven deaths.

It is important to prepare effective evacuation plans for such facilities, taking into account their geographical features.

At night, it is difficult for the small number of workers alone to evacuate all residents of the facilities.

It is vital for facilities to build a system of cooperation with the local communities in such situations.

This is a good opportunity for welfare facilities around the nation to make sweeping reviews of their disaster preparedness.

In rainy Japan, flooding is a familiar disaster.

The latest typhoon caused flooding in wide areas, leaving many residents cut off and some people trapped in cars in the water.

We need to do more to obtain knowledge about the disaster risks around our own homes and become savvy with ways to avoid disasters.

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