The Rune Kichijoji 14-story apartment, located in the Kichijoji-Minami district of Musashino, Tokyo, is home to approximately 150 households. One weekday afternoon in late February, walkie-talkie training was held at the apartment for members of its self-appointed disaster-preparedness committee. About 30 members participated: two or three per floor, with most of them women in their 60s and 70s.
Five years ago, in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the building’s elevators stopped working. “What will happen if an even worse quake hits?” said worried resident Keiko Adachi, 64. In response to her appeals, the committee was formed in 2013.
Adachi was partly spurred by a disaster-preparedness session held by the city, at which she was told, “If a building isn’t damaged, we want residents to stay at home instead of going to a shelter.”
The committee took half a year to create two handbooks: a general one for residents and one for committee members. They contain important points to note in times of disaster, such as “the elevators, water and toilets will be out of service” and “every household will be expected to store their own food and water supplies.” They also provide instructions on using the emergency dialing service.
Residents formulated an emergency action plan. If a quake measuring at least lower 5 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 hits, the committee will establish a task force headquarters in the assembly hall on the building’s first floor.
The cost of the 14 walkie-talkies, one for each floor, that the committee purchased was covered by the apartment’s administrative fees and Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry subsidies.
The apartment was constructed 38 years ago, and has long seen strong interaction among its residents through events such as parties in the assembly hall.
“The planning is like an extension of our everyday chitchat, so we’ve been able to keep it up and move forward,” Adachi said with a smile.
According to a 2013 Tokyo metropolitan government survey, there are 133,000 apartments in Tokyo. Housing estimates compiled by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry the same year say that 3 million households, or 46 percent of the overall total, live in apartments. In Chuo Ward, the percentage is 88 percent.
If the power goes out and elevators stop functioning, residents of a building will need to go up and down the stairs in order to access restroom facilities and water supplies. Shelters will have priority for aid supplies, and it is not believed such supplies will be distributed to apartments.
Rune Kichijoji’s initiative is being supported by the Mansion Life Continuity Association based in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. Its managing director, Taro Iida, 73, said: “Authorities will concentrate lifesaving efforts on areas with a high density of wooden residences, and apartments won’t receive assistance until later. Residents of apartments need to train on a regular basis and store emergency reserves so they can survive on their own.”
Tokias is a 20-story condominium located near JR Minami-Senju Station in Arakawa Ward, Tokyo. One Sunday in late February, about 15 residents whose ages ranged from middle school age to their 90s gathered in the first-floor meeting room to discuss plans.
“When you are unaware of what kind of people are living in a place, you can’t guess whether there might be injured people in a given room,” one of them said. After it was decided that the residents should meet and become acquainted with one another, a meet-and-greet event was proposed.
The building is 11 years old and has 620 households. Yuji Hirasawa, 52, became the community association’s chairman in 2008. In exchanging information with other apartments, Hirasawa became aware of the importance of making an effort in disaster preparedness. In 2014, he began his second term as chairman and launched a variety of initiatives.
To draw up a list of the building’s residents, he revised the management agreement so it requires residents to provide occupant information annually. He also introduced a system for residents to confirm their safety via the Internet.
There is still much to be done. About 300 people gather every October for the disaster drill — a big increase compared to previous years, which attracted only dozens of residents — but the overall participation rate is still only 17 percent. According to a survey conducted among the tenants in December, only 60 percent have stockpiled enough food and water for three days.
Hirasawa said passionately: “We don’t have a goal in addressing disaster preparedness. I’m just going to stay tenacious and keep calling everyone together. Little by little, I want to create a disaster-preparedness plan that suits our needs here at Tokias.