Use precise information to improve communication regarding disasters

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Children checking the disaster prevention hazard map in a disaster prevention learning. On July 27, 2021

Information communicated by local governments in the event of disasters is such an important matter because it can mean the difference between residents’ life and death. Ways must be devised to provide meticulous information so that each and every person can accurately grasp the situation and will not make an incorrect judgment about evacuation.

Following a local government’s issuance of an evacuation order among other advisories, emergency warning messages are sent to users in the affected area via their mobile phone carriers. Information will also automatically be sent to people who have registered with local governments’ disaster prevention email services and smartphone apps with similar functions.

With the widespread use of mobile phones and smartphones, expanding the use of these services as a means of quickly providing information in emergencies offers benefits to both local governments and residents.

The problem is how to best communicate the information.

If the information provided about possible disaster areas where caution should be exercised or locations that should be evacuated is vague, residents will have difficulty dealing with the situation. If they receive a large amount of information irrelevant to where they live, it could undermine the reliability of the information as a whole.

On Aug. 15, the Setagaya Ward Office in Tokyo issued an evacuation order in an emergency warning message, saying there was a risk of landslides due to heavy rain, but without clearly specifying where. Many people must have been perplexed about whether they should evacuate.

In actuality, the order applied to only certain parts of the ward affecting about 7,000 people.

In order to prevent such a situation, some local governments narrow down areas with a high possibility of a disaster occurring in an effort to provide meticulous information.

In June, the Hiroshima prefectural government changed how to provide landslide warning information for Hiroshima City and adopted a system to issue the information by ward, instead of providing such information to the entire city, which has eight wards including Naka and Higashi wards. The prefectural government followed the new system in handling the effects of heavy rain this month.

The Hiroshima city government has made it possible to email disaster prevention information for each elementary school district in the city, and residents can receive information about their desired areas, such as the locations of their homes and workplaces.

Administrative districts in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture, and Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, have expanded considerably due to municipal mergers. Therefore, they subdivide the districts into the premerger municipalities to issue weather warnings. It is important to provide information on the actual situation based on the weather conditions of each region.

Local governments should create a system to send emphatic messages to residents who need to evacuate, while taking into consideration the reduction of the burden on their staff. They must encourage more people to register with disaster prevention email services so that they can make use of such systems when there is the need to evacuate.

Needless to say, it is important for residents to raise their awareness of disaster prevention in order to mitigate damage from disasters.

It is necessary for residents to check hazard maps regularly to confirm the degree of risk around their homes and the location of evacuation sites. It is hoped that residents take action to protect their lives by making use of information provided by local governments.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 23, 2021.