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News bulletin system to begin Nov. 1 for Nankai Trough quake based on precursors

If and when temblors and other abnormal phenomena that have the possibility of leading to a Nankai Trough megathrust earthquake are detected, an expert panel will assess the situation and release related information, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) announced Oct. 26.

    If the panel determines that there is a higher possibility of an earthquake than usual, the agency will release a news bulletin as quickly as two hours from the time abnormalities are detected.

    The system will be put into place starting noon on Nov. 1 as a provisional arrangement, as the government is set to review disaster prevention measures based on the Act on Special Measures Concerning Countermeasures for Large-Scale Earthquakes, which depends on the ability to predict Tokai earthquakes.

    Nankai Trough megathrust quake-related information will be released including when a massive earthquake along the Nankai Trough with a magnitude of 7 or higher has occurred; when earthquakes with a magnitude of 6 or an intensity of lower-5 or higher on the Japanese seismic scale have struck in the same region, and anomalous activity has been detected on instruments measuring distortions in bedrock; and when no earthquake has occurred, but instruments measuring distortions in bedrock indicate changes that could be related to a massive earthquake. In such cases, an expert panel will conduct an investigation, and release a news bulletin (part 1) informing the public that a probe has begun.

    If, as a result of the investigation, the panel determines that the possibility of a massive earthquake occurring is rising, it will release another news bulletin (part 2) as early as two hours from the initial detection of abnormal activity. If quakes believed to be precursors to a Nankai Trough megathrust earthquake are already occurring, the panel will release warnings of the high likelihood of a massive quake occurring, specifying the period of time that people should be on high alert. If the panel determines that the probability of a major earthquake occurring is not on the rise, it will release another news bulletin saying so, ending the series of news bulletins.

    The government is urging the public to review their preparedness for what to do in the case that a news bulletin relating to a massive Nankai Trough earthquake is released. However, other specific measures on how to respond to such a disaster have yet to be decided. The central government has not yet established a clear policy on whether residents should begin evacuations before a massive quake hits, confounding officials of municipal governments.

    Until now, Tokai Earthquake measures had stipulated that when information predicting the imminent occurrence of a Tokai Earthquake is released and the prime minister declares a warning, all public transportation would be stopped and students would be sent home from school. But what the government has thus far instructed the public to do when the new quake-related information is released is that they fix furniture and large household appliances to ceilings and walls to prevent them from moving around and toppling over, confirm evacuation routes, and check their stockpiles of food and other daily necessities -- due to the fact that the information in the news bulletins will lack the certainty of quake-prediction information.

    Whether to evacuate those who require more help than others and residents of coastal areas before a massive quake hits will be deliberated further in model districts, such as those in Shizuoka and Kochi prefectures. Guidelines for municipal governments are set to be laid out after such deliberations, meaning that the news bulletin system will be implemented while the government is still fumbling around for the appropriate protocol.

    "Information from the JMA is abstract. The only thing we can do before there has been actual damage is to gather city officials together," an official at the crisis management section of the Shizuoka Municipal Government said. "We want to be a model district, and promptly begin deliberations on how to handle possible disaster situations."

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