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Disaster Prevention Lessons in Kobe, a Recovery Zone

In light of lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tokio Marine Group decided to initiate Disaster Prevention Lessons in 2012 with a desire to convey its knowledge of disaster prevention to children in order to be of benefit in case of future disasters. This desire reached back to Kobe, where the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck 20 years ago.

QPlease tell us the background to the decision to conduct Disaster Prevention Lessons at elementary schools in Kobe City.

Junji Tate
Manager, Osaka Government Sector Section,
Kansai Government Sector & Financial
Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance

The initiative for Disaster Prevention Lessons was started voluntarily based on the idea that Tokio Marine Group employees could do something to benefit society by making use of know-how amassed in business. We wanted to do it as part of our regional contribution in Kobe.

It is said that approximately 40% of the people living in Kobe today were not there when the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck, and going forward, this ratio will continue to rise. Of course children and young teachers barely have any memory of the disaster. Since many workers from Hyogo Prefecture and Kobe City have not experienced a disaster as adults, both the prefecture and city are faced with the major challenge of passing down the experience and lessons learned from the disaster. Against this backdrop, we proposed the introduction of Disaster Prevention Lessons to Kobe City, and once the proposal was approved, the lessons were positioned as part of ShakeOut drills.

ShakeOut drills refer to one of the disaster prevention drills adopted by Kobe City in fiscal 2014. The generic name applies to drills comprising the four stages of “Advance registration, ”“Advance learning,” “Drill initiation” and “Review,” and anyone can participate from anywhere so long as there is the desire to do so. Being in agreement with the tenets of this initiative, Tokio Marine & Nichido has been implementing Disaster Prevention Lessons as part of advance learning at 11 elementary schools in Kobe City.

QWhat kind of preparations were done prior to the start of the lessons?

In order to make sure the lessons weren’t a case of one-way communication, we realized that we had to ask the teachers their thoughts and expectations on the initiative and give this proper consideration. If we weren’t serious about what we were doing, this attitude and feeling would surely come across to the children.

That’s why we visit each school three times: first to meet with the teachers, second to check the operation of the school’s equipment and third for the actual lessons. At the same time, we compared and adjusted what the school wanted to convey with what we wanted to communicate and worked to prepare lessons that involved more than merely reading from a manuscript.

Personally, this was the first time that I have worked in the secretariat for the Disaster Prevention Lessons so I was a bit nervous to begin with. However, I got advice from the teachers who said that the children would get bored if they had to listen for too long, that including video with a lot of movement and a quiz would stimulate interest and that since only certain children put their hands up, it would be good to give as many children as possible a chance to speak. With this advice in mind, employees serving as instructors sought to make improvements each time.

QHow was the children’s reaction to the lessons?

The lessons feel like a special experience for the children simply because someone from outside the school is coming to talk with them. Although schools repeatedly undertake evacuation drills and other measures, we have our own unique way of communicating the need for disaster prevention as an insurance company.

The lessons cover the three topics, specifically, “Why are we afraid of earthquakes?” “What causes earthquakes and tsunamis?” and “What should you do if an earthquake strikes?” The children rarely get a chance to view such things as simulated images of how a tsunami unfolds or actual disaster prevention tools, so this really grabbed their attention. Feedback from the teachers was also very encouraging.

When I asked what major earthquakes had struck Japan in the past, I was impressed that some of the children answered the Great Kanto Earthquake in addition to the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and the Great East Japan Earthquake. I was surprised that they knew so much about an event that happened so long ago.

QWhat was the most important thing you wanted to convey to the children through the lessons?

In every lesson, I would tell the children that I wanted them to talk about the content of the lesson with their family once they returned home. It’s easy to forget something you have heard only one time. In addition, usually only two or three children would raise their hand when I asked if their household carried emergency supplies. Since this is the case in Kobe, which has experienced a disaster, we wanted to do what we could for future disaster prevention by getting them to talk about the lessons with their families so that they could commit at least some of the content to memory.

Some 20 years ago, I was living in a bachelors’ dormitory in Ashiya when I experienced the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. Even though I was scared for my life, this feeling has gradually weakened over time. It would probably be even further to the back of my mind had I moved away from the area.

When I visited Tohoku after the Great East Japan Earthquake and witnessed the desolate landscape as far as the eye could see, however, it really hit home again how frightening disasters can be. So I wondered if there was anything I could do and if there was anything I could convey. I realized that I could actually make a difference precisely because of the fact that Kobe was once a disaster zone and because I have been through a disaster.

I am very grateful to both the prefecture and city because the lessons would not have been possible without their cooperation. I’d like to continue with and expand the initiative by getting more employees to willingly become instructors, thereby increasing their experience and communicating what they have learned to those around them.