Dealing with downpours requires planning, preparation and practice

This summer, various parts of the country were hit by torrential rains, bringing the threat of disasters closer to home. It is vital to refresh our awareness of disaster prevention before typhoon season gets into full swing.

In June, there was little rain and it was unseasonably hot. In August, record-breaking downpours hit the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions, causing rivers to overflow and flooding homes. Agricultural crops such as rice and apple were also severely damaged.

In heavy rain disasters, delayed evacuations by elderly residents are often an issue. As it is dangerous to evacuate during heavy rain or after dark, evacuating at the earliest opportunity is recommended. To do this, it is important to make local evacuation plans in advance.

According to a survey by entities including the Cabinet Office, fewer than 10% of local governments nationwide have completed evacuation plans for elderly and disabled residents, among others. This is because of the large number of people who would need support during evacuations, and the difficulty of determining evacuation routes and the availability of personnel to support evacuees. High-risk areas must be prioritized and efforts should be accelerated.

Flood control measures have become more difficult in recent years due to the increase in the number of unusually severe torrential rains. There probably will be more instances in which “public assistance” by the central and local governments will not be able to keep up. It is important to reaffirm the significance of “mutual assistance” and “self-help” by communities and individuals.

Residents in Murakami City and the village of Sekikawa in Niigata Prefecture reportedly called out to each other to evacuate during torrential rain on Aug. 3 and escaped the disaster. The municipalities are in an area that suffered many casualties when floods hit the region on Aug. 28, 1967. The village has held a festival around Aug. 28 every year to pass down lessons learned from the disaster.

This can be said to be a good example of how daily awareness of disaster prevention and community connections have helped minimize damage.

Recent torrential rain disasters have often involved linear precipitation bands in which cumulonimbus clouds form one after another, triggering heavy rainfall. For this reason, the Japan Meteorological Agency established a system this year to predict outbreaks of linear precipitation bands half a day in advance, but forecasts have often been inaccurate.

It is hoped that the agency will make efforts to improve the accuracy of forecasts, but since it is dealing with nature, there will inevitably be limits to what it can do. People should make use of the predictions when planning activities, but they need to understand that there will be times when linear precipitation bands are predicted, but do not actually occur and vise versa.

Weather and disaster prevention information is becoming increasingly complex, and the frequency of announcements is increasing. To avoid confusion, information must be conveyed in an easy-to-understand manner.

On Sept. 1, Disaster Prevention Day, some local governments resumed disaster prevention drills that had been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Disasters can occur at any time of the year. As the pandemic is not expected to be contained in the near future, it is hoped that local governments will carry out disaster prevention drills as much as possible, through such measures as reducing the number of participants and improving ventilation at practice sites.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 2, 2022)