March 13, 2015
With a history of earthquakes and tsunamis, Japan has plenty of experience in coping with disasters. Today that experience is being used creatively to prepare people everywhere for disaster.
As Japan has shared its disaster preparedness expertise internationally, a number of resources for coping with and learning how to cope with emergencies have been created. Here are four of them.
The card game "Bosai Duck" is used in Japan for disaster preparedness education aimed at children. "Bosai" means "disaster preparedness" in Japanese. The game was created by the General Insurance Association of Japan to teach through play what actions a person should take during a disaster. Using this idea, Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers in El Salvador created a Spanish language version. For example, on the back of the "Earthquake" card, there is a duck in a pose of protecting its head. The card teaches the importance of getting under a desk or somewhere else safe to protect oneself from falling objects during an earthquake. When children are shown the disaster pictures and practice the corresponding poses, they gradually acquire knowledge of what to do in a disaster. El Salvador had almost no disaster preparedness education before this. The game has received praise such as, "It's easy to understand even if you can't read the language, and anyone could have fun with it," and it is spreading to other Latin American countries.
What if you encountered a natural disaster in a foreign country? If you didn't understand the language, you wouldn't be able to get any information and you would probably be left out in the cold. In order to provide information to everyone equally during disasters, it is important for radio stations and other information providers to prepare. So the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters Japan, JICA Kansai and the Disaster Reduction Learning Center made a CD with disaster-related voice recordings. Announcements for various types of disasters and scenarios were recorded in nine languages. Examples include "a magnitude 6 earthquake just occurred" and "people driving a car should stop immediately and take shelter." Use of the CD has been growing, including during the Great East Japan Earthquake, when special radio stations set up in various places used it to broadcast emergency information for foreign residents.
The Kobe independent disaster preparedness organization "Bosai Fukushi Community" is popularly known as BOKOMI. While carrying out disaster preparedness training and local welfare activities, it also conducts community training in firefighting and rescues and disaster drills so that during disasters residents can join forces and protect themselves. If people simply wait for government assistance during disasters, they cannot cope quickly enough. That is precisely why mutual assistance on the community level is important.
It would be great if this Bokomi initiative spread to developing countries and was widely adopted. So the city of Kobe, JICA Kansai and the Disaster Reduction Learning Center collaborated to create an English handbook and DVD to teach the fundamentals of Bokomi's approach. They are full of innovations for weathering emergencies using the abilities of residents and nearby objects, such as cooperating to make a bucket relay when there is no fire hose available and using blankets to transport the injured when there is no stretcher.
"I immediately picked up my child and just ran while crying. I thought I would die. Even today I cannot believe I survived such a tsunami." The speaker is a woman from the Philippines living in the city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, who stood in front of a video camera giving a lively account of her experience two months after the Great East Japan Earthquake. It was part of an interview conducted by the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. The stories of some 50 Filipinos living in three prefectures in northeastern Japan are expressed in manga form to fulfill their wish to improve the disaster preparedness awareness of people in the Philippines using what they learned from Japan. The results have been praised as easy to read and hold, and they are being used in disaster preparedness education in the Philippines. So far two titles have been published, “Daang Mapanganib” (dangerous road) and “Ang Huling Sayonara” (the long goodbye).