When a major disaster occurs, many local government employees also suffer damage as residents of the affected areas, throwing administrative functions into disarray. This is one of the lessons learned from the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which devastated Kobe and neighboring areas on Jan. 17, 1995.
The Kobe disaster wreaked major havoc on local administrative work. While prefectural and municipal workers were also affected by the catastrophe, they had to deal with up to around 320,000 people who evacuated, operating evacuation centers, issuing quake victim's certificates and conducting surveys on housing damage.
The sheer lack of manpower at local governments was compensated by a large number of personnel dispatched by local bodies across the country, which totaled some 200,000 in the roughly two months after the quake disaster. The move to conclude mutual support agreements between prefectural governments and municipal bodies has since spread across Japan.
However, disaster recovery and reconstruction work would not get on track just by receiving assistance. It is essential for local bodies to work out measures to effectively utilize support provided by other prefectures and municipalities in case of emergencies.
The importance of such a receptive ability came under the spotlight after a spate of local governments in disaster areas faced difficulties dealing with backup personnel and relief supplies.
In the wake of the deadly Kumamoto earthquakes in April 2016, relief supplies were sent to affected local bodies without waiting for their requests. However, such supplies ended up being piled up at distribution hubs before making their ways to evacuation centers.
In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, approximately 90,000 local government employees from across the country were dispatched to disaster areas, but many affected local bodies failed to assign proper work to them in an efficient manner.
According to a survey conducted by the Fire and Disaster Management Agency last year, only less than 10 percent of prefectural and municipal governments nationwide had predetermined the content of services to be provided by relief staff dispatched by other local bodies in the event of disasters. It is imperative to get all local bodies ready with such plans in order to prevent confusion in disaster areas.
The central government's Basic Disaster Management Plan urges local bodies to formulate plans for accepting assistance in the event of disasters. However, many local bodies are reluctant to draw up such plans on the grounds that it is difficult to predetermine the content of relief work because the number of people required for disaster assistance and their role-sharing will be different depending on the scale of each disaster.
In the central government's guidelines created in March 2017, it is advised that local bodies assign dedicated personnel for accepting disaster assistance from other local governments, among other solutions to address challenges posed by receiving physical and material support from outside resources.
The Kobe Municipal Government formulated a plan five years ago for receiving assistance in the event of disasters, becoming the first local body to do so in the country. The plan, which is based on the city's own experiences of receiving aid in the wake of the Great Hanshin Earthquake and providing relief following the Great East Japan Earthquake, details 130 varieties of administrative services that require assistance in the event of disasters -- such as distribution of food at evacuation shelters and accepting volunteer workers.
Who knows when the next disaster will strike Japan? All local bodies across the nation are urged to be aware of the significance of being prepared to receive assistance in anticipation of possible disasters and to scramble to take necessary measures.