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Only 2.4% of Japan’s missile shelters are underground

  • March 20, 2022
  • , Sankei , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

By Yamamoto Takashi, Tsuchiya Hiroki


Of the approximately 50,000 emergency evacuation facilities designated by local governments in Japan in case of a ballistic missile attack, the percentage of “underground facilities,” which are the most effective in mitigating human casualties, was only 2.4% as of April last year, Sankei Shimbun learned on March 19.


In light of the reality that the security environment surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly harsh due to China’s military buildup and North Korea’s repeated missile launches, the government plans to increase the number of designated underground facilities over the next five years until the end of FY2025. As the locations of such facilities themselves, however, are not well known by the public, whether the facilities would effectively function in the event of an emergency is unknown.


In the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24, not only military bases but also civilian facilities in urban districts were hit by missiles. Local media reports show citizens flooding metro stations in the capital of Kyiv in place of shelters, and residents taking shelter in the underground theater in Mariupol in the southeast of Ukraine.


In recent years, North Korea has been conducting ballistic missile tests in the vicinity of Japan. The Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are prepared to intercept North Korea’s missiles from the sea and the ground. A former senior SDF official stated, however, “If multiple missiles are launched simultaneously, it would be difficult to shoot them all down, and damage to civilian populations may be unavoidable.”


In response to growing threats posed by North Korea’s missile launches, local governments have designated 51,994 evacuation sites (as of April last year) as emergency temporary shelters under the Act concerning the Measures for Protection of the People in Armed Attack Situations, etc.


The locations are publicized on the Cabinet Secretariat’s “Civil Protection Portal Site,” but most of them are above-ground structures made of concrete. According to the Cabinet Secretariat, only about 2.4% (1,278 locations) are underground facilities, which are most effective in limiting damage from blasts and heat rays.


The government has set a five-year period from this fiscal year to the end of FY2025 as the period for concentrated efforts to increase the number underground shelters. Currently, most of the designated evacuation facilities are public institutions, and the government hopes to utilize private underground malls and other facilities, but an official of the Cabinet Secretariat says, “Not much progress has been made.”


Former GSDF Gen. Tanabe Kishiro, who served as the GSDF Northern Army commander and director-general for the Crisis Management of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, emphasizes the high level of safety of underground facilities. But he also points out the low level of public awareness of such existing facilities, in addition to the small number of designated evacuation facilities. “If the public does not know in advance where the evacuation facilities are located, the facilities will not function as evacuation sites,” he said. “First of all, we must thoroughly inform the public of the locations of the evacuation facilities.”

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