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Many education boards in Nankai tsunami path haven't trained staff for disasters: survey

Okawa Elementary School, which was flooded by the tsunami caused by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, is seen in this Oct. 15, 2016 file photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter. (Mainichi)

Less than half of municipal education boards with elementary schools at risk of being hit by a massive tsunami triggered by a Nankai Trough earthquake held disaster training for staff last academic year, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

    Only 48 of the 104 municipal boards with elementary schools in prospective tsunami flooding zones in their jurisdiction engaged in appropriate staff training activities, such as holding tsunami disaster prevention information exchanges or lectures by school staff that experienced the tsunami caused by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake or by disaster experts, in academic 2016. Roughly 70 percent of the education boards surveyed had also not created tsunami disaster prevention manuals.

    The survey targeted a total of 139 municipal boards of education across 13 prefectures from Chiba to Kagoshima, as well as one on an outlying island belonging to Tokyo, along the Nankai Trough that were directed by the government to strengthen their tsunami countermeasures. Of these, 104 boards that oversee a total of 425 elementary schools had facilities in predicted flooding zones. By prefecture, over 70 percent of those education boards in Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Oita and Ehime prefectures held training events. However, in prefectures with a larger number of municipalities in harm's way, the percentage tended to be lower.

    The necessity for tsunami disaster preparedness was brought into the spotlight by the tragedy at Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, where 70 students and 10 staff died, and another four students went missing, during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster. In 2014, a third-party investigative committee led by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology ruled that this worst-case scenario disaster was caused by a delayed decision to evacuate -- roughly 50 minutes after the earthquake occurred -- and a mistake in the selection of a location for evacuation -- land only approximately 6 meters higher than the school right along the Kitakami River.

    The committee also stated that a lack of awareness about the danger facing the school among the staff could not be ruled out as another possible cause of the disaster, and requested that each board of education institute drills to raise alertness. Elementary schools in particular have children in lower grades with restrictions on emergency response actions, and it is necessary for staff in charge of disaster prevention to continuously carry out evacuation drills and other procedures with students and make sure to prepare thoroughly ahead of time.

    Of the reasons why the municipal boards did not hold training, answers such as because they send persons in charge to the prefectural education boards for training, because there were some schools in the boards' jurisdiction that were outside of the flood zone, and because some schools were independently engaging in training stood out.

    "In order to have concrete measures planned out in each school, it is necessary to have the guidance of municipal boards of education that know the unique situation of each school well," said a representative from the School Health Education Division of the education ministry.

    At Okawa Elementary School, a tsunami evacuation location had not been clearly designated, however, all 104 municipal boards of education did answer that a location had been decided for all schools in the predicted flooding zones.

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