40% of kindergartens, day care centers face flood risks; a few have no evacuation plans

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A graduation ceremony is held in March 2015 at a nursery school that closed due to the 2011 tsunami that hit Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

About 40% of kindergartens, day care centers and early childhood education centers in major cities are situated in areas expected to be flooded during torrential rain or other such disasters, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey. Of these facilities in flood-prone areas, nearly 20% of them have yet to prepare evacuation plans as required by law.

The Yomiuri Shimbun sent questionnaires between February and March to 109 municipalities (ordinance-designated cities, prefectural capitals, core cities and Tokyo’s 23 wards) and received a 100% response rate.

As of January, there were 21,470 day care centers including unlicensed nurseries, 3,231 public and private kindergartens, and 3,579 centers for early childhood education and care. Some municipal governments did not keep track of the number of private facilities.

By law, prefectural governments aim to mitigate damage by designating areas that are expected to be flooded by tsunami, rivers overflowing, storms and other natural disasters.

At least 9,151 day care facilities, or 42.6%, 1,177 kindergartens, or 36.4%, and 1,587 early childhood education centers, or 44.3%, were located in a flood hazard area. Among Tokyo’s wards, most facilities in the east were found to be at risk of inundation.

Of these facilities in flood hazard areas, 9,814, or 82.4%, have drawn up evacuation plans, meaning that nearly 20% have yet to do so.

The Flood Control Law revised in 2017 requires child welfare facilities and schools located in an expected flood area to draw up countermeasures. The facilities must report to the relevant municipalities their schedule for evacuation drills and the condition of their emergency supply stockpile.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The cover of a picture book about a day care center that saved children’s lives during the Great East Japan Earthquake

Regarding facilities that have yet to draw up plans, municipalities said some facilities lack staff and might have little recognition that countermeasures are mandatory. The pandemic has also made it difficult for municipalities to conduct on-site inspections and give instructions.

“Awareness of disaster prevention is extremely important for improving the quality of childcare and accident prevention,” said Kyoko Tsukigase, an associate professor of emergency medical science at Kokushikan University. “There should be no difference in children’s safety depending on the facility. Evacuation plans must be made at all facilities.”