Elderly Shelters

January 30, 2011 by  

Taken from the The Yomiuri Shimbun, this article illustrates the state of relocation shelters for the elderly and special needs communities in Japan:

Only 30 percent of municipalities around the country have designated facilities as shelters for the elderly and handicapped during natural disasters, according to a survey conducted by the Institute for Fire Safety and Disaster Preparedness.

Researchers at the Mitaka, Tokyo-based institute attributed the low figure to local governments’ unsatisfactory cooperation with welfare facilities and a lack of understanding of designation criteria by officials in charge.

The central government recommends that local governments designate facilities that meet certain conditions as welfare shelters for the elderly and handicapped during emergencies.

In order to acquire the designation, facilities must have barrier-free designs and be equipped with nursing care kits and medical supplies.

In February and March, Yukio Komatsu and other researchers at the center conducted a survey of 1,823 cities, wards, towns and villages across the country. Of those, 1,097 responded.

The survey showed that only 7 percent of municipalities had information about which of their facilities met required conditions and designated them as welfare shelters.

An additional 23.7 percent answered that they had designated some of the facilities that meet the criteria as shelters.

However, 30.7 percent of municipalities answered that they failed to designate any facilities although they knew which ones met the criteria.

More surprisingly, 29.3 percent said they never conducted inspections of potential candidates for designation.

The system was initiated by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry after it reflected on the bitter experiences of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995.

In the quake’s aftermath, many elderly people in evacuation centers complained that they were experiencing health problems. Despite their advanced age, they were forced to live in the same environment as people without physical problems.

Because of this, the ministry recommended that local governments evaluate welfare facilities and schools suitable for accepting elderly and handicapped people and that they should designate those facilities as welfare shelters.

“Disasters happen unexpectedly. So it’s important to prepare in advance in order to prevent deaths,” Komatsu said.

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