Japan municipalities seek ways to spread warning info

TOKYO - With the introduction of a new emergency warning system from Friday, municipalities now bear a new obiligation under the Meteorological Service Law to inform residents of the warnings when issued.

When the Japan Meteorological Agency announces a warning, municipalities receive relevant information through their respective prefectural governments by fax, telephone or other means. But many municipalities have not yet decided on detailed procedures for how to relay the information to residents.

When heavy rain hit Akita and Iwate prefectures on Aug. 9, Semboku, Akita Prefecture, had information that the rain would be heavy enough to require that a new emergency warning be issued if the system were already in place. But the city did not inform the residents of the fact.

"We have not yet decided how to inform people," a city official said.

Yamaguchi did not take any special measures when a downpour hit the city on July 28 and the city government was informed that the rain was heavy enough that it would have required a new warning to be issued if the system had already been introduced. The city explained its lack of additional measures by saying it had already issued an evacuation advisory.

The city government is considering ways to publicise the new warnings via the community's disaster management public address system, vehicles with loudspeakers, e-mail and other media, but details are still "under study" according to a city official.

On the other hand, some municipalities are promoting their own measures in accordance with the new system.

For example, issuing a new emergency warning for rain requires observations of once-in-50-year heavy rain at 50 or more locations. But Gifu Prefecture decided to immediately inform any municipalities which have any observation point recording a once-in-50-year downpour that they are experiencing a "phenomenon that should be subject to the emergency warning."

"Because we have had cases of localised downpours causing casualities in the past, we would like to take immediate countermeasures even if conditions do not (fully) meet the new emergency warning's standards," an official of the prefecture's Disaster Prevention Division said.