Tailored evacuation plans can help vulnerable people escape disasters

Cases continue to arise in which mainly the elderly suffer harm in earthquakes and floods. Disaster prevention capabilities of local communities must be heightened through the formulating of evacuation plans for people vulnerable to disasters.

The revised basic law on disaster countermeasures has been enacted. The main pillar of the revised law is to oblige municipalities to make efforts to draw up individual evacuation plans for people who have difficulty escaping disasters by themselves.

The targets of the evacuation plans are mainly elderly and disabled people who need home nursing care. The revised law demands that evacuation sites, evacuation routes from their homes and people who can support them in the event of a disaster be listed in the evacuation plans for each person.

It is meaningful to compile in advance basic information to prevent delays in escaping disasters.

In the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, elderly people accounted for 60% of the fatalities. In response, the government in 2013 mandated municipalities to compile lists of names of those vulnerable to disasters and called on them to draw up individual evacuation plans for these people.

While most municipalities have completed their lists, 30% have yet to formulate the evacuation plans.

Since each targeted person has a different circumstance, such as health conditions and whether a family member lives with them, it is necessary to draw up evacuation plans in accordance with the actual situation. Local governments should hold thorough discussions with elderly and disabled people themselves, their families, welfare workers, local residents and others to promote the creation of the plans.

The city government of Beppu, Oita Prefecture, has care managers in charge participate in the making of evacuation plans and pays them ¥7,000 each to make a plan for an individual. The municipal government reportedly confirms the availability of necessary medical care, medicine and wheelchairs at evacuation centers, and the contact information of hospitals where evacuees have periodically visited, among other information, and incorporates such information in the evacuation plans.

Having experts who know the situations involved in the formulating of evacuation plans will give each person a sense of assurance.

The Beppu government is also making efforts to establish a system in which local communities as a whole work to support the vulnerable in disasters. Municipal officials are among those reportedly visiting elementary, junior high and high schools and universities to give classes on the current situations of the elderly and disabled, and to encourage parent-teacher associations and other entities to participate in evacuation drills.

It is important for local governments to take various opportunities to create chances for the elderly to interact with local residents. It is desirable to create circumstances in which local residents know well who needs support on a routine basis.

Improvement of evacuation centers is also an issue. Local governments have designated facilities for the elderly and others as welfare shelters for those who need nursing care. The actual situation, however, is that few facilities have the surplus capacity to accept evacuees in addition to the residents already there.

Local governments need to increase the number of evacuation sites by strengthening the cooperation of staff members among facilities and providing more supplies.

Listening carefully to the voices of the people in the field and steadily solving regional problems will help strengthen disaster preparedness.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 14, 2021.