Friday marked the 25th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which claimed 6,434 lives. It is imperative to develop preparations for the next disaster by taking advantage of the experience of the disaster-affected areas that have achieved reconstruction.
At the time of the earthquake, fire departments in the stricken areas were flooded with 119 emergency calls. The line was overloaded, which prevented people from connecting. Local governments were panicked because they could not grasp the damage situation. Mobile phones were not widespread back then, and people waited in long lines to use public phones.
The past quarter century has seen significant changes in the fields of information and communications. Now, many people have smartphones. The development of social networking services has brought about cases in which Twitter posts have triggered rescue efforts in times of disaster.
It is necessary to use new technologies as an effective way to prevent disasters.
Kobe City aims to introduce a system to collect disaster information using artificial intelligence (AI). In the system, an AI automated dialogue program can gather information from citizens registered with the free communications app Line and display on the maps where people are reporting landslide disasters or fires. If local governments can grasp the damage situation based on accurate information, they will be able to swiftly conduct rescue operations and evacuation guidance. Industry, government and academia should work together to develop such technologies.
The year 1995, when the Great Hanshin Earthquake took place, is called “The first year of volunteerism in Japan.” Within one year, about 1.38 million people visited the affected areas for volunteer activities. Since then, volunteers have become indispensable in various disaster-stricken areas.
At that time, there were insufficient systems in place to coordinate their activities, but now local social welfare councils and other organizations have experienced setting up volunteer centers to allocate work to those who wish to participate.
However, it has been pointed out that the burden of transportation and accommodation expenses is one of the reasons preventing people from participating. In this fiscal year, the Hyogo prefectural government established a system to subsidize expenses such as transportation fees by up to ¥200,000 for groups of five or more. It is significant to devise ways to encourage people to participate in volunteer activities.
The earthquake hit the urban area. The Kobe city government issued about ¥280 billion of municipal bonds to cover disaster-relief expenditure for debris disposal or other restoration work, and will pay off the liabilities this spring. During this period, it could not afford to invest in projects that would revitalize the city. This shows the difficulty of reconstruction in disaster-affected municipalities.
It is important to aim at building disaster-resistant communities on an ongoing basis. It is essential to promote seismic retrofitting at the time of redevelopment and to ensure that roads are made wide enough for emergency vehicles to travel them.
The Cabinet Office last year estimated that the number of people expected to suffer damage from a Nankai Trough earthquake could be decreased by 90,000 with quake-resistance measures and improved evacuation awareness. Tireless efforts to reduce the damage caused by such a disaster should be continued.
— This article appeared in the print version of The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 17, 2020.