For the past 6 months I have been working in the CITYNET Yokohama Project Office as a Project Assistant. Time has gone by incredibly fast and I have had a numerous tasks of different sizes. This week I had the opportunity to help the office put together an emergency procedures manual for future staff and interns. Our building was having their annual disaster drill and the office thought that I was a perfect time to update the office manuals.
The drill was not a small-scale affair and it involved everyone who worked in the International Organizations Center. The emergency scenario that we were given was of a 7.0 earthquake off the coast of Chiba Prefecture, just north of Tokyo- the earthquake was accompanied by a risk of Tsunami and a fire in the hotel attached to our office building. Being aware of the risk for Tsunami is extremely important because the CITYNET office is right on the harbour. Many of the emergency exits, including the ones closest to our office, exit right on the water. Therefor doing drills is important because employees need to know how to evacuate the building safely in a wide array of emergency scenarios.
Participating in drills is extremely important and muscle memory really is a thing. If you are well-versed in ways to protect yourself from various emergencies then you are less likely to freeze and panic in a real emergency. For example, in the office building the emergency doors need to be turned a specific way in order to open them. If there was a huge earthquake you would be scared, and rightly so, the door might seem very intimidating and frustrating if you had not opened it before. But if you have previous experience in a non-stressful situation, once you get to the door you will be more relaxed and be able to focus on the next step of your evacuation instead of getting stuck on this one step.
I am really glad that I did participate in this drill because I made a mistake during our evacuation from the office. Ever since I was little I have been taught that if you are evacuating because of a fire you need to close the doors behind you but keep them unlocked. This is to slow down the spread of the fire but also make it easier for firefighters to make their way around the building. The emergency scenario that we were re-enacting was an earthquake that triggered a fire so I thought that we needed to close our office door. In my defence, I grew up in Toronto and it highly unlikely that a large earthquake would affect us. We do lots and lots of fire drills but not fire and earthquake drills. I had been over confidence of my knowledge on emergency procedures and that bubble popped during this drill, whic exposed the constant need to practice through different scenarios. Because I was right, if there is a fire you close doors behind you but if there is a fire that is connected to an earthquake you have to keep the doors open.
From the beginning of my internship in July through to the late fall we became accustomed to regular earthquakes. Most weeks there were at least three decent-sized earthquakes in the Yokohama and Tokyo region, enough to freak you out and keep you aware. Before this internship started last summer I had lived in Japan before, in Kobe for 9 months and then another 4 months in Yokohama, and I had never experienced this many earthquakes on a regular basis. I prepared my emergency kit at home, started carrying a small emergency bag with me everywhere including granola bars, a whistle, hand-sanitizer, a face mask, flashlight, swiss-army knife, and first-aid kit. To be honest I probably should have already had a first-aid kit on me because I am extremely clumsy and I am glad that living here has gotten me into the habit of always carrying one.
In the New Year the plates have settled down a bit but ignoring the fact that Tokyo is overdue for a large earthquake and Mount Fuji is likely to erupt in the next few decades is silly and quite dangerous. To everyone moving to or visiting Japan, I think that it is part of your responsibility as a foreigner to participate in drills and prepare emergency supplies. This is hard to do as a tourist but brushing up on earthquake procedures before you visit is a small but lifesaving activity that can be used in across the world. There is a 1/3 chance that Victoria will be hit by a damaging earthquake in the next 50 years so emergency preparedness is something that we should all be practicing on a regular basis. Even if you think you are prepared and know all there is to know you should still participate, you never fully know what you don’t know until you go.
So where am I going with all this? The past week I have been finishing up the touches on the office manual with the help of one of my colleagues. I am proud that I will be able to leave something useful and important for future interns and I hope that reading this blog will spark a desire in you to get yourself and your office prepared. Think about how long ago your last emergency drill was. What was the scenario? Do you know the vulnerabilities you are exposed to? Do you know where all the emergency supplies are in the office? Ignoring the inevitable doesn’t help anyone and puts ourselves and our loved ones at risk. Practice makes perfect and perfect keeps you safe.
For more information on how you can prepare for disaster please explore the following resources:
City of Yokohama: http://bo-sai.city.yokohama.lg.jp/lang/en/eng