Sendai is disaster-ready

By Anish Chand

SENDAI, Japan — At any time of the year, at any time of day or night, an emergency can force people to flee their homes. Especially after an earthquake has struck, or a tsunami warning has been issued, people must find safe shelter quickly or seek higher ground.

At such times, it’s easy to panic.

The city of Sendai has taken steps to help ensure that doesn’t happen. After the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and the tsunami it generated — Sendai and much of the surrounding area were heavily impacted — the city’s Crisis Management Department have built 11 evacuation centres around the city, each costing an average of 250 million yen (US$2.23m).

Each building is 11 metres high, and built on 26 piles that go deep through sandy soil to bedrock.

“This building is earthquake-resistant, and 300 people can stay here,” said Akira Saitou of the Sendai City Crisis Management Department (during a tour of one of the centres.) “If more [people] come then I guess they will need to squeeze in a bit.”

When an earthquake occurs or a tsunami warning is issued, residents can start moving to one of the 11 evacuation centres nearest to them.

“The first person to arrive has to break a glass and use his hand to open the gate from inside if the gates are closed,” Saitou said.

Inside, evacuees will find cartons of blankets, sleeping mats, bottles of water and biscuits.

“All the materials have 5-year usage dates and they remain here, and every five years they are recycled,” said Saitou. He added that there’s enough food stocked for three meals per person for the first 24 hours.

Each evacuation centre also has a generator, ropes, a communications system and portable toilets to cater for extra people. There is also a siren and an LED light on the roof.

“The sirens and the light are turned on to let people know where the center is located in case it’s night and there is no power,” Saitou said.

That’s the way it is in Japan. Now imagine if such buildings were in Fiji, with all the materials and supplies inside and left unattended?

“Unattended, they will grow legs and walk away,” posted Fiji TV journalist Jese Tuisinu after reading a shorter version of this reporter’s article on his social media page.

“If such buildings like this here in Fiji are left unattended, not in a million years will they be safe,” wrote another reader, Beau Lewa.

The crime rate in most of Fiji’s cities is at a rampant high. Unless security officers were stationed at such facilities, they would surely fall victim to thieving and misuse.

That is, of course, if Fiji decided to build evacuation centres in the first place, as Sendai City has done.