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33 Chiba local gov'ts report public info system damage from Typhoon Faxai: survey

Repair work is seen being carried out on a utility pole and power lines that were damaged by Typhoon Faxai, in Kyonan, Chiba Prefecture, on Sept. 15, 2019. (Mainichi/Junichi Sasaki)

CHIBA -- Damage to infrastructure for disaster information distribution to residents by Typhoon Faxai in September has been reported at some 33 of 41 municipalities in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, which were affected by the disaster. With the expected arrival of fierce Typhoon Hagibis this weekend, concerns have been raised as to how information will be successfully conveyed in cases of long-term power cuts.

Among the damage reported by some 80% of respondents were batteries that had run flat on emergency wireless public announcement systems, and failures to connect to the internet and webpages, leading to issues with information being distributed to the public.

The Mainichi Shimbun carried out a written survey with 41 municipalities in Chiba Prefecture to which the Disaster Relief Act was applied in response to Typhoon Faxai. They all replied to the survey, and when asked whether there had been damage or issues with infrastructure to supply information to residents, 33 reported problems. Seven said there were no issues, and one town did not respond to that specific question.

Emergency wireless public address systems distribute disaster prevention announcements by speakers installed both outside residences and inside individual homes via receiver kits. Among their functions, they broadcast evacuation information, as well as locations where water and supplies are being distributed.

But at 20 of the 33 municipalities reporting issues, long-term power cuts have meant emergency batteries at relay stations and on the speakers ran flat. The town of Kyonan reported, "Up until Sept. 24, receivers in around 800 households were not broadcasting." Many local authorities resorted to deploying cars to distribute announcements.

Some municipalities also reported damage to equipment including antennae. In the city of Futtsu, a support post for a speaker at one location was broken and has still yet to be repaired. In preparation for Typhoon Hagibis, the local government is urging those in the affected area to register for disaster prevention email updates.

Up to around 640,000 households in Chiba Prefecture were without power following Typhoon Faxai in September, and 170,000 households and businesses lost connections to telephone landlines and the internet.

Many municipalities reported that their means of communication were temporarily cut off; among them, the town of Sakae said, "The municipal government office's phone lines were down, so we carried out our response from other facilities owned by the town." Additionally, the town of Otaki wrote, "We couldn't connect to the internet, so we were not able to input information into the system to report disaster conditions to the prefectural government."

There were also reports from local governments of not being able to distribute information from their websites or issue disaster prevention emails.

A Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications manual on emergency usage batteries for wireless speaker systems includes among its requirements that they can provide a standard of 48 hours of power.

But with both the cities of Kimitsu and Tateyama reporting that their 72-hour emergency batteries ran flat, it has become apparent that their responses have not been enough in the face of long-term power cuts that have defied expectations.

(Japanese original by Yuki Machino and Seiho Akimaru, Chiba Bureau)

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