Measures against Major Quakes: How Should Lessons from Noto Disaster Be Applied?

When it comes to predicting major earthquakes and taking countermeasures, it would be difficult to make all possible preparations. Even so, what is needed to minimize damage? It is hoped that disaster management plans will be put in place based on the lessons learned from the Noto Peninsula Earthquake.

The Hokuriku region — which includes Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, where the Noto quake caused extensive damage — was previously considered to be at low risk of a major earthquake. The central government’s earthquake measures had centered on possible massive quakes that could occur directly under the Tokyo metropolitan area and in the Nankai Trough.

The Noto disaster has once again shown how difficult it is to accurately predict a major earthquake. In quake-prone Japan, it is important to strengthen preparedness on the premise that a major earthquake could occur anywhere and at any time.

The Basic Law on Disaster Management obliges the central and local governments to devise “basic disaster management plans” and “local disaster management plans,” respectively, while calling for them to conduct reviews based on the actual situation in case a major earthquake or other disaster occurs.

The Ishikawa prefectural government has revised its disaster management plans almost every year, but its damage assumption, on which the plans are based, remained unchanged since it was devised in fiscal 1997. The prefecture had reportedly planned to update the current assumption in fiscal 2025.

The existing assumption stated that damage from an earthquake off the northern coast of the Noto Peninsula would be highly localized and the severity of the disaster would be low. The Wajima city government’s stockpile of emergency rations was based on this assumption, so it ran out on the day the recent major earthquake occurred.

The quake happened on New Year’s Day, when there were more people than usual staying in the city because many had returned to their hometown. This also had an impact on the stockpile.

Other local governments need to examine whether their current damage estimates accurately reflect the latest findings on earthquake predictions and changes in local communities, such as graying and depopulation.

The Tokyo metropolitan government every few years revises its damage assumption for a massive earthquake that could occur directly under the metropolitan area. The central government should not leave the formulation of damage assumptions to local governments, but provide guidelines, such as calling for a review every 10 years.

Based on the lessons from the Noto earthquake, there have been growing moves across the nation to review local disaster management plans.

The Aomori prefectural government has newly referred in its plans to the need for the prefecture and its municipalities to strengthen cooperation with the central government when processing the debris and waste generated from a disaster there, as the disposal of huge amounts of such waste in the quake-hit Noto areas has been an issue.

Many communities in the Noto areas were isolated due to severed roads, so the Fukushima prefectural government intends to increase food reserves in districts in the prefecture that are at risk of becoming isolated.

How much food and other supplies will need to be prepared in advance in order for local residents to survive for a week to 10 days until assistance arrives from the outside areas? It is essential for each local government to make concrete estimates and incorporate them into their disaster management plans.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 3, 2024)