Though yesterday’s launch of National Preparedness Month was filled with a lot of great activities taking place throughout the U.S., it also a day that underscores the shortcomings in the nation’s public readiness efforts — because also yesterday Japan held its annual Disaster Prevention Day during which 670,000 citizens participated in emergency drills in Tokyo and 34 prefectures around the country.
According to The Daily Yomiuri:
The government on Wednesday conducted a disaster drill under a scenario in which three massive simultaneous earthquakes struck a wide area along the Pacific coast in central Japan. Wednesday’s drill, the first under the triple-earthquake scenario, was among many similar exercises conducted nationwide, marking this year’s Disaster Prevention Day.
Japan’s Disaster Prevention Day was established to mark the anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake which killed more than 100,000 people in 1923. And China, since its 8.0-magnitude 2008 Sichuan Province earthquake, has also held two national disaster prevention days with nationwide drills.
This blog has long advocated both more extensive civilian drills as well as a special preparedness day to undertake them. If Japan and China can do so, I think we can too.
Most every top national and local government preparedness official I’ve spoken to believes that preparedness exercise for the public would increase citizen readiness and engagement. Short of an actual incident, a drill is the best way to get people to think through what they would do if something actually happens. (For example, how to evacuate in a hurricane for residents, like in the northeast, who are not used to doing so.)
And, I strongly believe that there needs to be one day in the year dedicated to the emergency planning process. If we as a nation feel it is really important for the public to develop emergency plans, it would be far more effective if everyone was doing that at the same time — rather than asking individuals to do it on their own. This ‘preparedness day’ would also be the time that we all asked the questions about planning then practiced and updated those plans. It would be useful for both responders and the public.
Among the questions that will come out of that type of drilling day include: Where would you go? Would it depend on the type of emergency? Would you be able to get out of work? Would your kids’ school want you to come there? How would you get in touch with each other as well as how would the authorities would communicate with you?
The fact is that families will never be able to fully answer all these ‘what if’ questions in advance; it will always depend to some extent on circumstances (ie. evacuating vs. sheltering in place), but this day would at least begin the preparedness process. It would be the time to think through some scenarios and link together some of the institutions/people families would need to rely on in a disaster.
Japanese children in Disaster Prevention Day drill.