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Messages from Keidanren Executives May, 2016 Preparing for Tokyo Inland Earthquake

Toshiaki EGASHIRA Vice Chair of the Board of Councillors, Keidanren
Director Senior Advisor, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co., Ltd.

Natural disasters strike when you least expect them. Although this may not have a scientific basis, these words have been passed down from ancient times in Japan, building on existing experience. It is said that there is a 70% probability of a major earthquake occurring directly beneath the metropolitan area within the next 30 years. Are we completely prepared to handle this?

I assume that many of you can still recall what happened at terminal stations during the Great East Japan Earthquake. According to the Cabinet's Office, approximately 5.15 million commuters experienced difficulty in returning home on that day. In case of Tokyo Inland earthquake hitting around noon, the number is estimated to be between 6.4 to 8 million in the Tokyo metropolitan area (5 prefectures). People tend to hurry their difficult way back home in order to confirm their family's safety. Meanwhile, a survey result indicates that the percentage of people who have actually used or practiced using disaster message boards and voice delivery services for quick emergency contact remains low at 8.2% and 1.3% respectively.

Fire-fighting and life-saving are the highest priorities in the direct aftermath of a disaster In Tokyo. Emergency vehicles experience mobility problems, making matters worse. If the streets become congested with people as if the Tokyo Marathon is being held, we may end up losing lives that could have otherwise been saved and even fail to put out fires that could have otherwise been suppressed.

Let us suppose that Keidanren member companies employ approximately 8 million employees in total. Under the assumption that a third of the workforce is employed in the Tokyo metropolitan area, the number would be around 2.4 million for the area. Would it be an overstatement to assert that many lives could be saved just by having every single one of them fully aware of the available safety confirmation methods and refrain from returning home simultaneously?

When faced with abnormalities, it is said that people are unable to make calm judgments and tend to imitate the behavior which the majority has selected, so called the "majority synching bias." In addition, we have a tendency to deny or underrate any unfavorable information. This is a concept known as "normalcy bias," which refers to a mental state where people reject the possibility of a disaster occurring to themselves. An example is depicted by the results obtained from the Cabinet's Office's "Questionnaire Survey on Disaster Preparedness" published in February 2014. According to the survey results, "reasons for not taking preventive measures against falling furniture in preparing for an earthquake" were as follows: "I intend to do so in the future (32.5%)," "It is unlikely that an earthquake would cause furniture to tip over, fall, or move (10.8%)," "there is no danger even if furniture tip over, fall, or move (8.6%)"

It is vitally important for us to understand these human behaviors, conduct disaster drills regularly, and train ourselves so that we are prepared to take actions calmly under such circumstances.

In order to ensure that safety verifications are executed soundly in the event of a disaster, companies must be prepared from ordinary times and make sure their employees are thoroughly informed. Amid current concerns over the potential occurrence of Tokyo Inland Earthquake, it is the social responsibility of companies to minimize disruptions resulting from people returning home simultaneously and contribute to disaster damage reduction through these efforts.