By Sakura Murakami, Magdalena Osumi, staff writers
In a bid to improve emergency readiness with the local foreign community, Mori Building Co., a Tokyo real estate developer, held a disaster drill in Roppongi Hills Wednesday in coordination with neighboring embassies, an international school and volunteers from a disaster relief organization.
The drill marked the 23rd anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that hit Kobe and neighboring cities in Hyogo Prefecture, leaving over 6,000 dead and thousands more injured.
Although Mori Building conducts regular fire drills, Wednesday’s drill was the first time The American School in Japan’s Roppongi campus, which accommodates a center for early learning, participated in the event. Participants from the U.S., Australian and German embassies, as well as Mori Building employees, also attended.
Under a scenario that a magnitude 7.3 earthquake had hit Tokyo, participants were led to a safe area within the Roppongi Hills commercial complex. Mori Building employees then handed out disaster kits that included plastic mats, aluminum blankets and emergency food to the evacuees. A mock emergency assistance drill was also held, with Mori Building employees responding to participants’ queries regarding the disaster in both Japanese and English with the help of volunteer translators from the group Minato International Disaster-relief Volunteers.
Organizations and people taking part in the event said the exercise was a good learning experience.
“At school we do practice duck and cover, and we talk about staying safe (in a disaster),” said Christy Carrillo, Director at the ASIJ Early Learning Center. “(This mock drill) helped (the students) to experience what (evacuating) would feel like, what they would do, what their teachers would do and what the Mori community would do for them.”
Oliver Lorenz, third secretary in administration at the German Embassy, stressed the necessity of closer cooperation with the operator of the Mori Building in the event of an emergency given the diplomatic mission’s close proximity to the Roppongi Hills complex.
Local Japanese participants were also keen to ensure that those not accustomed to earthquakes, such as people who come from other countries, are able to get the help and assistance they need in case of a disaster.
“Japanese people are used to earthquakes but foreigners may get nervous when faced with a tremor of a smaller scale,” said Yuji Kato, a volunteer translator from Saitama Prefecture in his 50s. “There are also many people who don’t speak English, so we (the volunteers) need to use body language or other possible ways to explain the situation and reassure evacuees everything will be alright.”
Improving existing safety measures and emergency preparedness is a high-priority issue for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government as well, especially in terms of ensuring the emergency services reach foreign communities in Tokyo.
“Whether it’s an earthquake or a terror attack, I’m very concerned about how to (ensure the safety) of all residents regardless of their nationality,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Friday during a regular news conference. “We’re working on improving multilingual signage and implementing innovative technological solutions to help foreigners in case of a disaster.”
The metropolitan government will hold a drill Jan. 25 for foreign residents at Komazawa Olympic Park, which straddles both Meguro and Setagaya wards. The drill will be aimed at raising levels of awareness and disaster preparedness among foreigners and to test the skills of volunteers willing to help with guidance in foreign languages.