Don’t Forget to Prepare for Heavy Rain as well as Earthquakes

Schools are not only places for learning, but also serve as evacuation centers for residents in the event of a disaster. In addition to major earthquakes, effective safety measures should be urgently taken to prepare for the heavy rains that have been occurring more frequently in recent years.

More than 90% of public elementary and junior high schools and other facilities nationwide have been designated by local governments as evacuation centers in the event of a disaster, and they play an important role in local disaster prevention measures. If school facilities are vulnerable to disasters, they will fail to protect the safety not only of students but also of local residents.

The central and local governments have so far focused their budgets on making schools earthquake-resistant, with the earthquake-resistance rate reaching almost 100%. At the same time, however, it is undeniable that preparations for heavy rain disasters have been put on the back burner.

As of October 2020, there were 7,476 public schools, or about 20% of the total, located in areas where flood damage is likely, but only about 15% of these schools have implemented preventive measures for that purpose.

Since these flood-prone areas are based on the assumption of a large-scale flood that occurs “once in 1,000 years,” it is often thought that there is no immediate need for the relocation of school buildings or land elevation work.

However, apart from such long-term assumptions, heavy rain disasters occur every year, so it is necessary to start with what can be done to minimize the damage.

Typhoon No. 19 in October 2019 damaged 2,170 schools, mainly in eastern Japan, and 294 schools were temporarily closed. There were a number of cases in which it took a year to restore the schools, or the schools were forced to conduct classes in rented facilities.

In many cases, schools were forced to close temporarily due to power failures in school buildings after outdoor power supply equipment suffered water damage. In its guidelines released in May, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry urged schools nationwide to consider measures to prevent such a situation as a priority.

A high school in Tochigi Prefecture damaged by Typhoon No. 19 had its power supply equipment raised nearly 2 meters in line with its restoration work. The school said that the staff room was also moved from the first floor to the second floor to protect important documents such as grade reports and exam answer sheets. This is a case that should be used as a reference.

With the arrival of the season of frequent heavy rains, the hope is that local governments and schools will take a fresh look at what their priorities are and enhance the effectiveness of their countermeasures.

Will schools be temporarily closed when weather warnings for torrential rain and flooding are issued? Will schools be used as evacuation centers regardless of whether classes are being conducted?

Unless such information is accurately conveyed to guardians and residents, it could cause unnecessary confusion.

It is important for schools and local governments to be thoroughly prepared by putting together manuals that include criteria for temporarily closing schools and opening evacuation centers, among other information, and by conducting evacuation drills.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 22, 2023)