Dealing with disaster: how prepared are you?

Below is a newspaper article stating that antidisaster education and disaster preparedness is inadequate in many schools in Japan. Are our kids ever prepared for the Big One?

Disaster prevention is such a rich area for homeschooling…earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunami have been favorite topics with my kids since kindie/yochien days! But too little depth of information or knowledge can mean we lull ourselves and our kids into complacency and deceive ourselves that we are prepared when we really are not.

Disaster preparation measures are of course sort of like pre-tests and drills for the real exam. Back when I was a student, our teachers told us to study and overstudy or “overlearn” so that meeting the problem questions and answer recall would seem like second nature. By analogy, we should be “overpreparing” for the real disaster so that when the time comes, it won’t turn out to be a disaster or at least the resulting damages will be minimized. Although we can’t ever eliminate the element of luck or bad luck (timing or where we happen to be when disaster strikes), the more we drill, and the more angles (of the topic/disaster possibilities) we cover, the more likely we are to possess the presence of mind to tackle the challenge when the time comes.

Teaching our kids about why disasters happen and working through with them all the possible danger scenarios and what to do in the event that each one happens, can determine whether we have confused and panicked kids or calm and cooperative kids who can act to save their own lives and those of others. When a disaster strikes, the first thing an efficient government does is to kick into action its crisis management task forces or teams and its channels of communications. The better thought-through the task force manuals are in terms of scenarios with their prescribed measures of action and the more times the task forces have had their “drills”, the more prepared the task forces will be to deal with the situation at hand. Of course, past experience is a great help, but borrowed experience and advice of others often works just fine too. You can take my word on this… I used to be part of a government crisis management task force and my husband was sent on the earthquake relief team to Turkey after August 1999. And you can imagine how our kids are raised

One other aspect of disaster education I believe is teaching our kids how to handle a highly stressful situation, which can include deep-breathing techniques and teaching them to talk themselves through the rehearsed steps to be taken. I know someone who became a school legend because… during a terrible disaster when some torn mangled steel plates had pierced through her thighs and even though she must have been going through excruciating pain, she was able to calm collect herself through the chaos to give instructions to other disaster victims and to bystanders to save the day.

There’ll probably be more on this topic in the future…in the meantime, I’ve gotta go pick up some spare batteries for our emergency lamps, and I think it’s time for another disaster simulation drill on the home front! TTFN.

Preparing kids for the worst / Antidisaster education should be defined in curriculum guidelines
Hiroyoshi Horii / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer
Disaster preparedness education has made little progress in schools as the memory of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, the 13th anniversary of which was marked Thursday, fades with time.
A Yomiuri Shimbun survey conducted from late November to mid-December reveals that there are several problems to tackle in promoting antidisaster education at school. Of the 64 boards of education in the nation’s 47 prefectures and 17 ordinance-designated cities, 24, or 38 percent, said they “don’t have sufficient class hours” to provide antidisaster education; 14, or 22 percent, complained that “antidisaster education has not been systematically incorporated into the curriculum guidelines”: and 10, or 16 percent, said “there are no teachers who can provide antidisaster education.”
As pointed out by nearly 40 percent of the pollees, schools do not have sufficient time to provide antidisaster education as they have been busy dealing with the introduction and review of cram-free education. Moreover, many of the schools, except those with teachers who are enthusiastic about antidisaster education, tend to do no more than conduct evacuation drills because antidisaster education is vaguely defined in the curriculum guidelines.
But as I visited schools that excel in antidisaster education, I was amazed by the variety of subjects taught there and the clear purpose of such education. The aim is teaching how to protect individuals, families and communities from harm in the event of a disaster.
There are classes that provide students with a chance to learn the importance of earthquake-resistant buildings from architects and other experts as well as to confirm dangerous places while they walk around a town. Evacuation drills have been conducted in certain areas by taking advantage of the urgent earthquake warning system that has become available for public use since October.
“The result of learning and the effort to learn lead to ensuring safety and security of life and as a result students become able to understand that what they learn is useful in their daily life,” Prof. Haruo Hayashi of Kyoto University’s Disaster Prevention Research Institute said in referring to the characteristics of antidisaster education. “Antidisaster measures should be taught as a school subject.”
The Unit for Disaster Prevention and Social Contribution at Kobe Gakuin University’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Education has been developing teaching materials to be used in class while taking into consideration teaching guidelines of each subject.
The teaching materials used for teaching Japanese to fifth-grade primary school students are based on a real story of children who helped distribute food and clean rest rooms at a school gymnasium that was used as an evacuation site at the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. The teaching material, titled “Child volunteers,” provides questions to check whether students understand sentences correctly so that they can cultivate their language ability by indirectly experiencing the events that happened 13 years ago.
The university has developed teaching materials to be used for one class hour each in eight subjects, including Japanese, arithmetic and social studies. Nobue Funaki, an instructor at the university, said, “We strongly want to see the teaching materials to be used by schools that are planning to introduce antidisaster education.”
Only about 40 percent of the 47 prefectures and 17 ordinance-designated cities have compiled teaching materials for antidisaster education, but the amount of easy-to-use teaching materials and data has been increasing. The teaching materials developed by Saitama Prefecture for middle school students consists of 20 chapters, including one titled “What do you do in an earthquake?” and comes with a teaching synopsis.
The Mie Prefectural Board of Education distributed materials in the current school year to all primary, middle and high schools to be used with personal computers to explain in class how an earthquake occurs and teach about tsunami with the use of video.
These and other materials developed by universities and local governments should be used positively at school and ways to use them as references should be explored.
In Kobe, DVDs of images of the aftermath of the earthquake and CD-ROMs containing newspaper articles and photos are used as teaching materials at primary and middle schools. All the primary school students were born after the Great Hanshin Earthquake. These materials were also used for teaching classes at primary schools in Shizuoka Prefecture. Thus, cooperation beyond prefectural boundaries is being promoted in areas where antidisaster education is advanced.
It has long been said that a major earthquake could happen anywhere in Japan at any time. Starting in fiscal 2008, the Education, Science and Technology Ministry will designate model areas for cultivation of human resources and development of teaching materials in an effort to support antidisaster education.
To provide children with solid antidisaster education within limited class hours, it is indispensable to study how to define antidisaster education in future curriculum guidelines. Further efforts are called for on the part of the government.
(Jan. 18, 2008) Daily Yomiuri


To know what can happen during earthquakes, go to this page for a Yomiuri Shimbun editorial on the topic:

A government study carried out found that 17,000 communities likely could be isolated in the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake. It is said that 25 percent of the nation’s houses and apartment buildings do not have sufficient earthquake resistance.


Japan at higher risk of disaster amid aging, more skyscrapers and underground malls

Friday, June 1, 2007

Japan’s vulnerability to natural disasters is increasing as skyscrapers mushroom in cities, shopping malls go underground and the population ages, a government report said Friday.


While earthquakes are a primary disaster concern, Japan has also suffered from increasingly abnormal weather over the last decade, resulting in a record number of storms, flooding and tornadoes, said the Cabinet Office report.


“In addition to growing risk of natural hazards, our society has become more vulnerable to disasters,” the disaster prevention white paper said.


Densely populated cities are crowded with high-rise buildings and apartments that are at higher risk in earthquakes and storms. Proliferating underground shopping malls are also vulnerable to quakes and flooding, the report said.


The growing percentage of elderly in the population also presents rescuers with more people likely to be hurt in a disaster, coupled with fewer able-bodied who can help them.


“There is a growing number of elderly people who need special care in time of a disaster,” the report said. “There is a concern Japan’s disaster prevention capability may be declining.”


The report called for awareness-raising campaigns, more active participation in disaster prevention activities by companies, and research and development of earthquake and tsunami alert technologies.


The government has prepared low-interest loans for businesses and investment aimed at disaster prevention projects. The report said there is a room for more services through cell phone messaging to send warnings and other information.


While Japan’s vulnerability is growing, so is extreme weather.


Over the past decade, the number of torrential rains have nearly doubled and major earthquakes occurred in areas not considered usual danger zones, such as Niigata and Noto in northern Japan.


In October 2004, a magnitude-6.8 earthquake hit Niigata, killing 40 people and damaging more than 6,000 homes. It was the deadliest to hit Japan since 1995, when a magnitude-7.2 quake killed 6,433 people in the western city of Kobe.


A magnitude 6.9 quake struck the Noto Peninsula in March, killing one person and injuring more than 200.


Tornadoes are relatively rare in Japan, but in November, the nation’s deadliest tornado on record hit the remote northern town of Saroma, killing nine and destroying many houses.


The report said the number of skyscrapers exceeding the height of 100 meters (330 feet) has more than quadrupled over the last 15 years. The number of single elderly households nearly doubled in the last decade.


The report raised concerns about the lack of knowledge about natural disasters and fading memories about major events in the past. Only about 10 percent of residents actually evacuate to higher grounds when tsunami warnings were issued, it said.


 Japan’s Deadly Game of Nuclear Roulette 52 reactors in Japan — which generate a little over 30 percent of its electricity — are located in an area the size of California, many within 150 km of each other and almost all built along the coast where seawater is available to cool them.

However, many of those reactors have been negligently sited on active faults, particularly in the subduction zone along the Pacific coast, where major earthquakes of magnitude 7-8 or more on the Richter scale occur frequently. The periodicity of major earthquakes in Japan is less than 10 years. There is almost no geologic setting in the world more dangerous for nuclear power than Japan — the third-ranked country in the world for nuclear reactors.

Considering the extreme danger of major earthquakes, the many serious safety and waste-disposal issues, it is timely and urgent — with about half its reactors currently shut down — for Japan to convert nuclear power plants to fossil fuels such as natural gas. This process is less expensive than building new power plants and, with political and other hurdles overcome, natural gas from the huge Siberian reserves could be piped in at relatively low cost. Several U.S. nuclear plants have been converted to natural gas after citizen pressure forced energy companies to make changeovers. — Japan Times

“I think the situation right now is very scary,” says Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist and professor at Kobe University. “It’s like a kamikaze terrorist wrapped in bombs just waiting to explode.”


According to an OECD report, among Asia’s most at risk cities from flooding due to climate change, out of 10 cities expected to be most exposed to floods in 2070, 9 are in Asia. In terms of population exposure, that list includes Osaka-Kobe, in terms of real estate asset exposure, that list includes Osaka-Kobe and Tokyo being cities with the most valuable pieces of real estate at risk.

Ranking list by population exposure: Mumbai, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Miami, Ho Chi Minh City, Kolkata, Greater New York, Osaka-Kobe, Alexandria and New Orleans.

Ranking list by asset exposure: Miami, Gunagzhou, Greater New York, Kolkata, Shanghai, Mumbai, Tianjin (China), Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok.

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