Poor anti-tsunami steps found in Japan's schools

Updated: 2013-07-09 14:53

(www.asianewsnet.net/The Yomiuri Shimbun)

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An independent committee that investigated Okawa Primary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, to discover why 84 students and teachers died or went missing in the March 2011 tsunami has pointed to the school’s insufficient anti-tsunami measures in its interim report.

“In disaster drills, the school only confirmed the evacuation route within school grounds and did not carry out training to prepare for tsunami,” the committee report said, highlighting the school’s lack of countermeasures against tsunami and its low level of awareness. The report was compiled Sunday.

To gauge the school’s awareness and experience regarding disaster prevention, the committee conducted a questionnaire survey of teachers who had worked at the school in the 12 years prior to the 2011 disaster. Of the 20 teachers who gave valid responses to the survey, which had a collection rate of 54 per cent, eight were familiar with the school’s crisis management manual. However, only two of the eight named tsunami as one of the assumed disasters (multiple answers were allowed).

In response to a question on whether the teachers were concerned about tsunami while at school, 12 responded they did not worry at all. When asked whether anti-tsunami measures were a topic during staff meetings or other occasions, 14 said no.

The committee also looked into how long each of the 13 teachers who taught at the school at the time of the disaster had worked there. Eight teachers, or about 60 per cent, had been working at the school for less than two years. Therefore, the committee said it was possible that many teachers were unfamiliar with the school’s surrounding areas.

Regarding the day of the disaster, the committee report said the height of the tsunami reached as high as about 10 metres, and was assumed to have hit the school building sometime from 3:30pm to 3:32pm.

Anti-tsunami measures were not mentioned in crisis management manuals and other documents in half of the 64 primary and middle schools of Ishinomaki. Committee chairman Yoshiteru Murosaki, professor emertius at Kobe University, criticised the situation, saying, “We believe that people in the region were not wary of tsunami.”

The committee is scheduled to compile a final report within the year.