Improve Operational Efficiency from Perspective of Evacuees

Evacuation centers opened by local governments when disasters happen serve as bases for providing support to evacuees. It is hoped that local governments will devise ways to improve the efficiency of their operations so that support is not hindered even if the number of staff is reduced.

In recent years, large-scale disasters have occurred frequently, and the importance of how local governments respond to disasters has only increased.

Local governments are using central government subsidies to improve the earthquake resistance of their evacuation centers, install public Wi-Fi services and deploy emergency power supplies. There are an increasing number of cases in which smartphone apps are being used to disseminate disaster information.

On the other hand, many local governments still require evacuees to register data such as their personal information and health conditions by hand when they use evacuation centers. In some cases, reporting from evacuation centers to disaster control headquarters relies on faxes. This has become a burden on staff members at these centers, and improving efficiency is an issue.

At the peak of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, about 470,000 people were evacuated, and the number of evacuation centers exceeded 2,000. The situation at these facilities was extremely confusing, and local governments were unable to accurately ascertain which evacuation centers people were in and what the distribution of relief supplies was like.

Support for people with pre-existing illnesses was also inadequate, and this is believed to have been one of the causes of earthquake-related deaths.

For a while after the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake, too, there were cases of local government employees reportedly being so busy with procedures to accept people at evacuation centers and sending and receiving faxes, among other work, that they did not have the time to understand what kinds of support evacuees were really seeking.

The number of local government employees is expected to decrease as Japan’s population declines. In order to provide effective support to evacuees with limited staff, it is essential to introduce digital technology into the operation of evacuation centers to reduce the burden on them.

In a feasibility experiment conducted by the Digital Agency in Fukuoka City, Kobe and Niigata Prefecture, the local governments were able to significantly reduce the time required to consolidate information as residents directly entered personal information, evacuation centers, chronic diseases, necessary medications and other information into a smartphone app.

Development of services that use the My Number identification card system to register information on evacuees is also underway. It is desirable for those who are able to utilize smartphone apps and My Number cards to prepare them in advance.

However, in many cases, people evacuate with only the clothes on their back. Many people are expected to rush to evacuation centers without their smartphones or My Number cards. It would be like putting the cart before the horse if there were long lines of people waiting for the procedures to enter evacuation centers as a result of promoting the use of digital technology.

Local governments should prepare a large number of tablets and other devices for rent and keep operational service desks where people who are not familiar with digital devices can go through the procedures in person. The response must be tailored to the needs of evacuees.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 19, 2023)