Ascertain how to effectively use facilities built for disaster relief

How can “tsunami evacuation towers” be used as evacuation sites for residents who are not near high ground in the event of a tsunami caused by a major earthquake? Local governments need to consider effective ways to use such disaster facilities.

Tsunami evacuation towers range in height from several meters to more than 20 meters, and they are built by local governments mainly in coastal areas. In some cases, evacuation spaces are set up in the higher parts of the structures, and water and emergency food are always available there. Construction costs several hundreds of millions of yen.

According to a survey by the Cabinet Office, a total of 502 tsunami evacuation towers had been built in 23 prefectures as of April last year. This is 11 times more than the figure before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

In 2014, the central government raised its subsidies for the construction of tsunami evacuation towers from one-half to two-thirds the cost in areas that would likely suffer tsunami damage from a massive earthquake in the Nankai Trough along the Pacific coasts. Building towers is said to have moved forward in various places as a result.

Local governments and communities should conduct regular drills so that residents who live far from high ground and need time to evacuate can quickly escape to the towers. It is also important for residents to be smoothly guided to the facilities even at night.

However, problems have occurred. The 13-meter-high tower in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, was found not to have been used during last month’s earthquake off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, according to reports.

It has been pointed out that the tower has more than 60 steps, making it difficult for the elderly and others to use it. It is meaningless if the elderly and people in wheelchairs cannot use such a facility. If a tower is to be constructed, it should be a convenient structure incorporating such measures as ramps to facilitate evacuation.

In some municipalities, completed towers unexpectedly became unusable.

The city of Kuji, Iwate Prefecture, built a 9-meter-high tower in 2016, but was forced to stop using it in March last year because the central government later set an expected maximum tsunami height of 16 meters for an earthquake in the Japan Trench. The city said it is considering whether the tower should be rebuilt because of the huge cost involved.

There must also be other means than building a new tower. Efforts are underway to use existing high-rise buildings as evacuation destinations, with about 15,000 buildings registered nationwide for that purpose. It is vital to be flexible in securing evacuation sites, in keeping with particular areas’ circumstances and the fiscal situation of local governments.

In the event of a major earthquake, some residents may be confused because they do not know where to evacuate to. A situation must be avoided in which residents are concentrated in towers and evacuation buildings, resulting in some people being unable to stay in those places.

Of course, it is important for local governments to prepare evacuation plans. It is likewise vital for residents to confirm evacuation sites and routes with their families in advance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 14, 2022)