For the past week the CITYNET Yokohama Project Office has been facilitating a study-visit with 14 delegates from Iloilo in the Philippines. The visit is a part of the Community Based Adaptation and Resilience Against Disasters (CBARAD-II) project that has entered its second phase.  The CBARAD project is working to develop sustainable DRR practices in Iloilo by enhancing disaster preparedness at the local government level and in local communities. The study-visit’s purpose was to learn about Disaster Crisis Management in the City of Yokohama. Session topics ranged from Planning Disaster Risk Reduction Management with a presenter from the Crisis Management Bureau of Yokohama to Community Participation in Disaster Risk Reduction with an Associate Professor from Yokohama City University.

On the last two days of the study-visit, we went to Kobe to meet with Plus Arts, a local NGO that works in DRR education for children, and to visit the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution and the Kobe DRR Museum.

After a long week of DRR related sessions I began to reflect on my own level of disaster preparedness. I pride myself in my ability to stay organised and prepared for expected events but I realised this week how unprepared I am for the unexpected.

During my first week in Japan I bought some instant food supplies, a two-litre bottle of water, I made sure to check where my local evacuation site is, and I left it at that. The instant food supplies included two packs of instant ramen, some instant rice, and some instant corn soup. The rations would have lasted me less than two days and in order to become consumable all my food items required water, meaning that my two-litre bottle would have disappeared quickly in the event of a disaster.  

The day after I returned from Kobe I decided that it was time to create a better-stocked disaster kit. The Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution is an emotionally heavy experience. The disaster museum lets you relive and learn from victims’ experiences. It really made me rethink my own disaster plan.

In Japan you are required to register yourself at your Ward Office within 15 days of moving to a new house. When you register they provide you a package with information on the ward and this includes a disaster manual that explains how to prepare for disasters. After getting home from Kobe I decided to finally go through the manual.

The ward has translated the manual into English and it contains information on how to make your house earthquake proof, it provides emergency contact numbers, evacuation areas, a full map of the ward including its evacuation areas and centres, and a tsunami hazard map. 

On the last page it provides a list of items that are necessary to take with you in the event of a disaster.

The ward recommends that when you evacuate who should carry:

–       Water (canned/bottled)

–       Imperishable/simple foods

–       Paper plates, paper cups

–       Hardhat

–       ID cards

–       Toiletries

–       Masks, tissues

–       Standard Medicine

–       Mobile Radio

–       Flashlight

–       Mobile phone and Charger

–       Work Gloves

–       Vinyl bags

–       Writing utensils

–       Cash

Supplementary items include:

–       Clothing and blankets

–       Soap, hand sanitizer, dry-shampoo 

–       Medical kit

–       Lights, heat packs

–       Slippers

–       Tape

–       Whistle

–       Valuables 

I tried to follow the list and I now have 9 litres of bottled water, energy bars, canned fish and meat, more packs of instant rice, soup, electrolyte packs, a small toiletry kit, plastic cups, plastic wrap, a lighter, and face masks. My dorm has hard hats, radios, and flashlights so I did not feel the need to purchase them.

Plastic wrap is probably one of the most useful items to have in a disaster and I was surprised that it wasn’t on the list of recommended items from my ward. In addition to using it to preserve food, it can be used to wrap up plates and bowls so that you do not need to wash them, you can just discard the used plastic cover. It can also be used to wrap up wounds or to use with a splint in order to stabilize a fracture. 

So, now that I have prepared this stockpile just how prepared am I for unexpected disasters? Just this morning my floor was woken up to the fire alarm going off. At first I thought it was an earthquake warning, then I assumed it was a drill but still I rolled out of bed to open my door and see what was going on. Sure enough there was smoke, quite a bit of it, so I rushed back into my room grabbed my phone, passport, and wallet, put on some shoes and headed for the emergency exit. Upon getting downstairs I realised that I was in a tank top and had not taken a sweater. I also did not have my Japanese cellphone with me and instead took my SIM cardless phone from Canada that without a Wi-Fi connection I could only use as a flashlight and to play solitaire. Fortunately the whole fire issue was dealt with quickly and before long we were able to go back upstairs and I could get ready for work.

The whole thing really made me think about how lucky I actually was. What if it had been a big fire? I should have at least brought a jacket or sweater with me. Yes it was sunny out and the weather is still quite warm in Japan but who knows how long I could have been stuck outside. I knew that there was smoke and it had the potential to become something bigger so why was I not instinctually more prepared?

I guess the one thing that makes me feel a little better is that before heading down the emergency staircase I ran into my neighbour who wanted to take the elevator down… I quickly told him that was a bad idea and we took the stairs down together.

If anything I think that this evacuation experience can be seen as a sort of drill. The timing aligned perfectly with my experience stockpiling for a disaster and I have learned a lot from it. It’s through making mistakes that we are able to learn so next time I will at least remember to bring a sweater.