Shelter Development: There Is Urgent Need to Create Public Protection Systems

As China and North Korea have been expanding their military activities, there is an administrative responsibility to develop shelters in preparation for contingencies. A system to protect the public must be steadily strengthened.

The central government will begin promoting the construction of shelters where residents can seek refuge in the event of an emergency. It plans to provide financial support for municipalities to build robust structures underground in public facilities.

Based on the Civil Protection Law that went into effect in 2004, local governments have been designating “emergency temporary shelters” in preparation for armed attacks, and there are currently almost 60,000 such facilities throughout Japan. However, these facilities are only temporary.

The new shelters that the central government is promoting will be equipped with stockpiles of food, power generators and communication equipment, which is based on the assumption that residents will be able to remain in them for about two weeks.

The government plans to build shelters in five municipalities in the Sakishima Islands of Okinawa Prefecture first.

China has unilaterally established an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea that includes the Senkaku Islands, and it has deployed warships near the border of this zone. Beijing is also increasing military pressure on Taiwan.

If a Taiwan contingency becomes reality, the Sakishima Islands will inevitably be affected. It is appropriate for the central government to prioritize the development of shelters in that area.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki has expressed a cautious view, saying: “Peacebuilding through dialogue is the diplomatic step that should be taken. Just building shelters is not a sufficient response.”

For many years, contingency planning itself has been viewed as taboo in Japan. The governor’s comments are believed to be based on this way of thinking.

However, taking Ukraine as an example, it is clear that failing to prepare for a crisis will not protect the lives of local residents. Tamaki’s comments do not demonstrate a sense of responsibility for the protection of residents.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile development is also a threat. Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile for the third time this year on Tuesday.

Due partly to financial restrictions, it is difficult to develop shelters uniformly throughout the country. The central government needs to proceed in a systematic way, starting with the Sakishima Islands.

In addition, in preparation for emergencies and disasters, starting in fiscal 2024 the government plans to renovate five airports and 11 ports in a total of seven prefectures, including Hokkaido, Kagawa and Fukuoka. It plans to carry out such projects as the extension of runways and the improvement of wharves for the use of aircraft and ships of the Self-Defense Forces and Japan Coast Guard in mind.

The importance of the transport of supplies by the SDF in times of disaster is undisputed in the aftermath of the Noto Peninsula Earthquake.

The government had initially planned to renovate airports and ports managed by Okinawa Prefecture as well, but delayed making a decision because of the prefecture’s cautious stance. The governor’s stance is questionable.

(The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 3, 2024)