Japan's disaster alert system fails test

Nearly 250 municipal governments had trouble receiving reports through the J-Alert warning system--a nationwide system for quickly sending information on natural disasters, military attacks and other emergencies--during a drill conducted by the central government last week, The Yomiuri Shimbun has found.

Wednesday was the first nationwide test involving all 1,725 municipal governments where the communications system has been installed.

In the drill, 249 municipalities, or 14 per cent, encountered difficulty receiving trial reports sent by the Fire and Disaster Management Agency at 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

At Takasaki city hall in Gunma Prefecture, officials said the reception apparatus did not emit the alarm it was supposed to make to signal an incoming report at 10 a.m.

The plan was for the city to e-mail residents with details about the report.

After the failed drill, an apology e-mail was sent that afternoon.

The cause of the failure remains unknown, said Toru Morita, head of the city's antidisaster section. "We're going to be criticised for having a faulty crisis-response system."

Three other municipalities--Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture, Kikuchi, Kumamoto Prefecture, and Yoron, Kagoshima Prefecture--did not receive transmissions during the drill.

Many local governments had trouble with the J-Alert system when trial transmissions were sent April 5 and April 10, prior to North Korea's launch of a rocket it claimed carried a satellite.

Similar troubles were reported again during an earthquake warning drill on June 28.

The government of Urasoe, Okinawa Prefecture, found that its disaster wireless system failed to send information from the J-Alert system to residents on April 5.

The city has since replaced the receiving device.

However, the automatic start-up device connected to the J-Alert apparatus and the city's disaster wireless system did not turn on when the first trial transmission was received at 10 a.m. during Wednesday's drill.

The second transmission was sent trouble-free 30 minutes later.

"We don't know why the system didn't work for the first transmission," an official at the city's antidisaster management section said.

Wednesday's drill exposed faults in the warning system at municipal governments expected to suffer serious damage if a major Nankai Trough Earthquake were to hit.

According to a government expert panel, Tosa-Shimizu, Kochi Prefecture, could be hit by a tsunami as high as 34 meters--the highest predicted nationwide--if such a quake were to occur.

At 10 a.m., however, residents of the city only heard the regular chime marking the time come from the city's disaster wireless system, not a test disaster broadcast.

It is believed the settings for the time chime overrode the J-Alert system.

"Even a child knows which deserves priority between a time signal and a warning. It's unbelievable," said Shinji Nohata, 39, a restaurant owner who lives 500 meters from the coast.

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