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Disaster Preparedness in Tokyo: Tips and Resources
While there isn't much any of us can do to stop natural disasters from happening, we can take steps to prepare our families in case of emergency. Every year, Japan holds "Disaster Prevention Day" 防災の日 on 1 September to encourage everyone to practice safety drills and inventory their disaster kits.
Need some help organizing your family for this year's Disaster Prevention Day? Keep reading for tips and resources!
Japan's Natural Disasters
As you likely know, Japan gets frequent earthquakes - more than once daily, on average. Many of these quakes are on the smaller side and go unnoticed. Many Japanese towns and cities are well-prepared with strong infrastructure and warning systems for larger ones. However, very large earthquakes are a possibility (like the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, which was the most powerful ever recorded in Japan), so should always be a consideration when planning for disaster.
Tsunami can be an added hazard following a large earthquake, as this is one of their primary causes. It's important to be aware of this when making your family's plans following an earthquake, as you don't want to accidentally put them in the path of a tidal wave while evacuating after an earthquake.
Typhoons, or hurricanes as they are known in the Western Hemisphere, are also common natural disasters in Japan. Unlike earthquakes and tsunami, however, there is a typhoon season (June to October, with most storms occurring in July and August). Preparing is a bit easier when you have a general idea on timing!
Disaster Preparedness Basics
There are a few simple steps you can take to cover the basics of disaster preparedness. First and foremost is making sure you'll receive warnings, alerts and updates. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) sends early warnings to Japanese TV stations, as well as domestic cell phones, but if you're not tuned into television and/or if you have an iPhone, Samsung or other foreign mobile phone, you won't automatically receive these alerts.
Luckily, there are many English-language resources you can leverage to ensure you're kept in this very important loop. Apps are a popular option, as most people will have their mobile phones with them regularly. Popular apps include Yurekuru, PocketShelter and NHK World for early warnings on earthquakes, tsunami, storms, landslides and the occasional rocket from North Korea...
You should also have emergency kits stored in your house. These are backpacks filled with critical supplies like flashlights, first aid supplies, hand-powered radios, gloves, duct tape and matches, which can be bought from sites like Amazon. Be sure to have potable drinking water stored - four liters per person, per day, for at least three days. Canned goods, dried fruits and meats, crackers, granola bars and peanut butter are also good to stock up on. Access to and availability of drinking water and food may be limited following a disaster, so having a supply for your family is critical. Make copies of important documents (passports, birth certificates, phone and address lists, medical records, etc) and keep them in a water-proof pouch inside your emergency backpack.
Additionally, be aware of local shelters and evacuation routes, in case you are unable to return to or stay in your home. This interactive map from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government provides information on evacuation areas, shelters, medical facilities and aid centers within the prefecture.
Disaster Preparedness Drills
Now that you know where to check for warnings, have supplies on-hand, evacuation routes and the nearest shelters in your address book, you need to develop a plan of action and practice it with your family!
While it'd be ideal for you to be with your family at home when disaster strikes, it doesn't always work out that way - especially with relatively unpredictable events like earthquakes. You may be at work or the grocery store, the kids may be at school or a friend's house. In that case, you need to determine how you will communicate with one another and where you will ultimately meet. The Red Cross has templates to help your family develop their own plan.
Once you have a plan in place, it's important to practice! The goal of Disaster Prevention Day is to serve as a reminder to do so, but you can use any day (or several throughout the year), as long as you are regularly testing and updating your plans as needed. In Japan, 11 March is also a common day for this, as many people have earthquakes on the brain then.
Mark sure babysitters are aware of emergency plans and the location of supplies, too. If you use the same sitter regularly, you can even consider including them in a drill!
Regularly check the expiration dates on your emergency supply kits. While most products will have a long shelf life, if you've (luckily!) had no reason to use the kit in a while, it is possible some of the items may be out of date. Bottled water can theoretically last indefinitely, but two years is generally considered max. Canned foods can range from one to four years, but it depends on how they've been stored. The last thing you want is botulism after enduring a natural disaster, so stay on top of expired products!
You can shore up your confidence in your family's preparedness by participating in community activities, as well. Tokyo Metropolitan Government runs a free disaster preparedness drill for foreign residents annually and organizations like WaNavi and the Red Cross also offer courses on disaster prep and emergency skills.
Not knowing what to do in the face of a natural disaster is often our biggest fear; you can take steps today to learn and practice skills that will be immensely helpful to your family and community, and your own peace of mind.