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The Asahi Shimbun/2019/9/11 14:10

More flexibility needed to avoid repeat of chaos after typhoon

Typhoon No. 15, which brought heavy wind and rain damage to the greater Tokyo area, should serve as a lesson in disaster preparedness.
Railway companies announced the cancellation of some services in advance but failed to avert post-typhoon pandemonium at train stations when the operations resumed.
We hope the companies will go over the mistakes they made to ensure safe and smooth operations in the future.
For the first time since September last year, railway operators went ahead with extensive “planned suspension of services” in the Kanto region. This time, many operators announced their plans one day ahead, which was well and good. But problems arose after the typhoon had passed.
From the evening before to the morning of the typhoon, East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) kept explaining that it would suspend operations “until around 8 a.m.” But the strong winds persisted longer than expected, delaying the actual resumption of service. As a result, people who expected the trains to start running around 8 a.m. headed to train stations in droves, only to get stuck in monumental congestion.
The same situation occurred at private railway stations.
Making accurate predictions is never easy. Still, couldn’t the railways have handled the situation better? By that, we mean being more flexible in their announcements and relying on news organizations and social media to provide more detailed and up-to-date information.
To avert chaos, it is crucial for the providers as well as recipients of information to determine the extent of the accuracy of shared information.
In July, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism issued a set of guidelines on planned suspension of services, instructing railway companies to collaborate more closely among themselves on organizing their work procedures along overlapping service routes.
Each company should send employees in charge to joint meetings where they can discuss such matters as how to disseminate information. Participants at these meetings can also share their successes and provide examples of areas that require improvement to enhance their overall performance.
This time, there were problems with cellphone reception in congested train stations. This calls for improvements in communication infrastructure.
A change of mentality among the public and businesses is also in order. As was pointed out last year when a major typhoon struck the Kansai region, much of the post-typhoon pandemonium can be averted if corporations become more flexible, such as allowing their employees to work from home or encouraging them to just take the day off.
And this time, train stations were not the only places of chaos. Public transportation between Narita International Airport and central Tokyo remained severed for hours, forcing more than 10,000 air passengers to camp out at Narita.
Many foreign visitors were left helpless because services offered in foreign languages were far from adequate.
With the Rugby World Cup coming up soon, not to mention the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next summer, crisis control remains a major cause of concern.
Private railway stations that were slightly outside the greater metropolitan area were back in operation by the evening after the typhoon had passed. Was it impossible to make use of buses to transport people from Narita to those stations?
Narita International Airport Corp. and all airline companies alike should rethink their emergency measures, such as ensuring that scheduled arrivals be rerouted to other airports as needed.
Many homes in Chiba Prefecture are still without power and water. If prolonged, these conditions can prove fatal in this heat. In every affected area, the situation must be dealt with urgently to minimize damage.
The typhoon season is not yet over. We must learn from every experience.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 11




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