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Japan schools' anti-tsunami measures reaching nat'l standards after high court ruling

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

ISHINOMAKI, Miyagi -- Some 60% of education boards in 108 municipalities predicted to be hit by tsunami triggered by major earthquakes including the Nankai Trough megaquake told the Mainichi Shimbun in a recent survey that they had already implemented anti-tsunami measures that meet standards set by the 2018 high court ruling -- double the percentage points from the previous survey two years ago.

    The Sendai High Court in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Miyagi ruled in April 2018 that now-closed Ishinomaki Municipal Okawa Elementary School -- where 74 students died as a result of tsunami in the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake -- had failed in its duty to set evacuation routes and destinations in its crisis management manual, in a lawsuit filed by the bereaved families of 23 Okawa Elementary students who died in the tsunami. Moreover, the court concluded that the Ishinomaki Municipal Board of Education was also responsible for directing the school to revise its manual.

    The ruling was finalized by the Supreme Court in October 2019, and two months later the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology notified all education boards in Japan to revise school disaster prevention systems according to the high court ruling.

    The Mainichi Shimbun survey was conducted in September 2020, the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling. It targeted 108 municipal education boards -- 72 cities in 13 prefectures in the central government-designated areas under increased measures against the Nankai Trough earthquake and 36 municipalities in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures that were hit by tsunami in the 2011 disaster, excluding the Fukushima Prefecture town of Okuma where residents had evacuated to the inland area. Of those, 103 education boards, or 95%, responded.

    Asked whether elementary schools under their jurisdiction had carried out measures including revisions to their disaster management manuals according to the high court ruling, 45 education boards said, "All schools had set their disaster prevention measures before the ruling was finalized," while another 18 answered that all schools under their jurisdiction revised their disaster prevention measures after the Supreme Court ruling or the education ministry's notification, meaning that overall 58% had already set disaster management measures that meet the standards.

    The 36 municipalities in the three northeast prefectures had beefed up measures against disasters before last year's top court ruling, while the remaining 72 cities had tendencies to review their measures following the 2019 decision.

    Thirty-three education boards, or 31%, said their schools were currently in the process of revising their disaster prevention measures and another five boards, or 5%, told the survey that they were yet to tackle the issue. Of these, the Ofunato education board in Iwate Prefecture answered, "As high-level handling is required (for disaster management measures), we're considering how we should instruct the schools."

    While many schools had already set up the evacuation routes and destinations required in the education ministry notice, some said it's geographically impossible to set them, and several schools were considering relocation.

    Asked whether the education boards checked schools' manuals or directed schools to review their anti-disaster measures, 50 education boards, or 46%, said they had already done so, while 25, or 23%, responded that they had already checked school manuals and planned to give the schools instructions. Twenty-six boards, or 24%, said they had planned to check disaster prevention manuals. Two education boards answered that they had no plan to check the manuals, but the Shizuoka Prefecture city of Iwata in central Japan explained that there were no schools in the city's designated tsunami hazard areas.

    Meanwhile, the education ministry notice also requested that school principals and those in management take training programs, but 56% said their training schedule was undetermined for fiscal 2020, with most of them saying that they could not arrange a schedule due to the coronavirus outbreak.

    (Japanese original by Nobuyuki Hyakutake, Ishinomaki Local Bureau)

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