Urgent consideration of how to tackle new challenges needed

If a major earthquake hits Tokyo, it could cause many casualties and have a great impact on government and corporate activities. It is hoped that possible challenges will be examined, and preparations will be made quickly in order to minimize the damage.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has revised its earthquake damage estimate for the first time in a decade. In the event of a magnitude 7.3 earthquake with a focus under the southern part of central Tokyo, 60% of the capital’s wards could register tremors of upper 6 or higher on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7, and about 6,100 people could die.

The estimated death toll declined by nearly 40% from the previous projection released in 2012. This is attributable to progress in rebuilding architectural structures or making them quake-resistant in areas where wooden houses are concentrated.

Even so, the estimated damage is comparable to the damage caused by the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. As the collapse of buildings and subsequent fires are directly linked to the number of casualties, steady efforts must continue to make architectural structures quake-resistant.

Figures in quake damage estimates and scenarios drawn up by the central and local governments, such as death tolls and the number of collapsed buildings, have tended to draw particular attention. However, the latest assessment by the metropolitan government also focused on challenges that are difficult to capture in numbers.

High-rise condominiums, of which more and more have been built in recent years, are a case in point. The metropolitan government pointed out that even though these condominiums can withstand strong tremors, rescue operations would be difficult if the elevators shut down due to power failure or if the surrounding land liquefies.

The metropolitan government also noted that given the intense heat in recent years, people could suffer heatstroke or their chronic illnesses could worsen if air conditioners are forced to stop.

The number of households with smartphones increased from 14.6% to 93% over the decade through 2020. Smartphones have become indispensable tools to confirm the safety of people and collect information at the time of disasters. It is also necessary to consider how to deal with batteries running down.

The metropolitan government specified these new challenges this time. This can be rated highly as an attempt to raise awareness of disaster preparedness. It is important for the central and metropolitan governments to consider measures to respond to these challenges in advance.

How to survive in evacuation shelters is also a crucial issue. Many people are said to store enough food for only about three days. For the latest scenario, the metropolitan government expected people to flock to evacuation facilities if their stockpiles run out. It is hoped that people will prepare sufficient stocks.

On the other hand, the estimated number of people unable to return home fell from the previous estimate for reasons such as the spread of telework. It will also likely be necessary to review disaster management measures in accordance with social circumstances.

If a major earthquake occurs with a focus directly under Tokyo, neighboring prefectures such as Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa could also suffer damage. Taking this opportunity, people are urged to discuss effective measures against disasters at homes and workplaces.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 28, 2022)