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About 20% of earthquakes of magnitude 6 or larger recorded in the world occurred in Japan, where there are about 2,000 active faults and 110 active volcanoes. Since ancient times, one of the essential roles of a country is to protect its people from natural disasters, such as the flooding of large rivers. It is also extremely important these days to protect the people of Japan from disasters. We should learn as much as possible from the tragic experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake in order to be prepared for any catastrophic disaster that may occur in the near future.

1. In the Event of a Disaster, Limit the Roles of the National and Municipal Governments, and Develop a System that Facilitates the SDF, Private Companies, and NPOs to Nimbly Take Action!

We have learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake that there is no upper limit to natural disasters and it is impossible to completely prevent their occurrence. In other words, it is possible that an unexpected disaster may occur, making the concept of “disaster mitigation” to minimize damage important. The nimble mobilization of the SDF and roles played by private companies and NPOs in the area affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake were meaningful. On the other hand, actions taken via the national and municipal governments were extremely slow and inefficient. To address a possible disaster in the near future, the national and municipal governments should focus on gathering and communicating information and, rather than taking actions themselves, rely on effective private companies and NPOs.

2. Use Cutting-edge Scientific Technology as much as Possible, Apply Every Possible Measure for Prediction and Warning, and Improve Information Transmission Using Online Communication Networks and the Private Sector!

In a disaster, the most important thing is the dissemination of information.

Firstly, it is necessary to apply the latest scientific findings to the extent possible to make as detailed an analysis as possible of the scope of predictable disasters and damage, and make the results of such analysis available to the public. Secondly, upon the occurrence of a disaster, every possible measure should be taken to issue emergency reports and warnings. Efforts should be made to avoid any failure to provide the public with essential information in a disaster. Thirdly, it is important to prevent telephone, television, and Internet networks from overloading in an emergency. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, online services such as Twitter and Facebook played an important role in getting information out.

3. A Lesson from Tendenko; Disaster Preparation Education and Drills for All!

There is a term, tendenko, used in Iwate Prefecture that means the following: “If you feel a large tremor when you are near the coast, get yourself uphill because a tsunami is coming. Worry about your own safety, not that of others, even your family.” Elementary and junior high schools in Kamaishi City in Iwate Prefecture had been conducting tsunami evacuation drills based on this wisdom for over eight years when the tsunami hit. Because of this, some 3,000 students immediately evacuated, resulting in the “Miracle of Kamaishi,” which had a survival rate of 99.8%. As this indicates, it is necessary for all schools and workplaces to provide education to help residents be prepared so that they can obtain information, make decisions, and act independently in a disaster. It will be necessary to clarify the position of disaster prevention education in the government curriculum guidelines and to improve disaster prevention programs at schools, for example, by allocating time for instruction on disaster preparedness.

4. Do Not Depend on “Hard” Facilities! Do Not Allow for the Limitless Expansion of Public Works in the Name of Disaster Prevention!

The Great East Japan Earthquake exposed the limitations of disaster prevention using “hard” facilities such as dikes. It is important to learn the lessons of the Great East Japan Earthquake and make Japan more disaster-resistant in order to be prepared for possible disasters in the near future, such as a Nankai megathrust earthquake. However, disaster prevention projects being used as cover for the implementation of large-scale public works would be a case of the tail wagging the dog. We should ensure that everyone understands there are no perfect measures to prevent all disasters from occurring and should develop reasonable disaster prevention projects based on physical facilities by specifying ordered priorities for the use of limited resources.

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