Japan set to revise guidelines for temporary disaster shelters

Japan set to revise guidelines for temporary disaster shelters
People use a train station in Tokyo as a shelter in the early hours of March 12, 2011.

The national and Tokyo metropolitan governments have decided to revise guidelines governing "temporary stay facilities" to ensure enough space is available to shelter people who cannot return home immediately after a disaster such as an earthquake directly beneath the capital, sources said.

Many facilities, such as large commercial establishments, have hesitated over allowing people onto their premises due to worries about potential problems.

At present, only enough space to serve 20 per cent of expected demand has been secured in Tokyo, which could leave as many as 730,000 people with no place to go.

To gain the cooperation of businesses, the governments intend to add exemption clauses to the guidelines, the sources said. People who cannot return to their homes would be able to use facilities if they signed a form agreeing to various conditions.

The government expects employees and students to stay at their companies or schools should public transportation come to a halt due to a major earthquake.

However, a disaster could leave about 920,000 shoppers, tourists and others stranded with no place to stay.

The evacuation areas prepared by Tokyo's 23 wards and other municipalities are intended for use by residents.

In addition to these areas, space equivalent to 33 Tokyo Domes is thought to be needed for temporary-stay facilities.

In addition to about 360 public facilities, about 210 businesses have formed agreements with municipalities in Tokyo to serve as temporary-stay facilities.

However, this would only provide enough space for 190,000 people.

Temporary-stay facilities include places such as corporate lobbies and hotel banquet rooms.

Guidelines laid down by the Cabinet Office, the Tokyo metropolitan government and others state that these facilities must meet earthquake-resistance standards and provide 3.3 square meters of space per two people.

They must also maintain a three-day supply of water (nine liters per person), food (nine meals per person) and blankets (one per person).

To gain assistance from companies, the metropolitan government provides subsidies to cover five-sixths of the cost of emergency supplies.

However, many businesses remain concerned about a variety of issues, such as who would be held responsible if someone staying at a facility temporarily was injured in an aftershock, and whether employees' work would be hindered.

These worries have kept many businesses from agreeing to offer temporary-stay facilities. Therefore, provisions to reassure companies are to be added to the existing guidelines, the sources said.

These include a provision that such services are provided by companies out of goodwill, that they are not responsible for any difficulties that may occur on the premises, and that medical treatment, water or food may not be available.

Further, conditions for staying at the facilities - such as a lack of liability for any medical problems - will be posted at the site entrance after an earthquake occurs. Users would be required to sign a consent form before entering.

According to the Cabinet Office, about 5.15 million people in the metropolitan area were stranded when public transportation shut down after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, despite relatively light damage in Tokyo.

If an earthquake struck beneath the capital at noon on a weekday, from 6.4 million to 8 million people could be unable to immediately return home.

New conditions for use

- The management of a facility will not be responsible for accidents or health problems, except in the case of intentional or gross negligence.

- Treatment for injuries will not be provided.

- Food and water may not be available.

- Users will sign a form agreeing to conditions such as following the instructions of management.

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