With Japan, We Prepare Together

 
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Providing assistance into the emergency simulation
Providing assistance into the emergency simulation

On November 10, 2014, International Medical Corps and the Association for Aid and Relief Japan (AAR Japan), in partnership with local Persons with Disabilities (PWD) supporting organization Iwaki Jiritsu Seikatsu Center (IJSC), conducted its second emergency shelter simulation targeting the needs of PWDs. Over 100 people took part in this exercise, including 42 PWDs, 27 caregivers, and 11 junior high school students. The majority of PWDs participating this time had physical (wheelchair-bound), psychological, and/or mental impairments. The event took place again in the gymnasium of Iwaki City’s Nakoso Second Junior High School, the typical location for an emergency evacuation center in times of natural disaster in Japan.

After welcoming everyone to the event, a 5 minute DVD summary of the last simulation exercise was shown to the participants. They were then briefed on the lessons learned and suggestions given by the participants the last time. Yoshiyuki Komatsu from IJSC demonstrated how the lessons learned last time were incorporated into the mock emergency shelter set up in the middle of the gymnasium, such as putting in tactile paving to assist the visually impaired to navigate the space, making sure aisles were wide enough to accommodate wheelchair users, and reserving living spaces near exits for the physically impaired. Participants were encouraged to explore the mockup during their free time and to give their feedback as well as other improvements that they felt should be made.

Similarly to the last emergency shelter simulation exercise we conducted in July, the participants were then split into 4 groups consisting of PWDs, caregivers, students and members of the general public. Each group took turns participating in activities at 4 “checkpoints.” Each checkpoint had a designated facilitator to give a short interactive lecture on the topic and to encourage the participants to think about the issue at hand and come up with solutions to identified obstacles. One junior high school student was appointed as note-taker for each group to record the participants’ comments and the important points made at each checkpoint.

Checkpoint 1: “Communicating” – Caregivers and other participants played the role of registration desk officials while PWDs practiced conveying essential information about themselves and their needs at a mock registration desk.

Checkpoint 2: “Emergency Rations: What Should We Eat?” – The facilitator showed the participants all the different kinds of emergency food we would all be having for lunch and explained how each item was being prepared by the volunteers. Additionally, he explained that emergency rations didn’t need to be these specially packaged foods with a 3 to 5 year shelf-life; emergency rations can just as easily be canned and dried goods with a shorter shelf life, eaten during normal times and restocked. It was stressed that those who have food allergies or other nutritional constraints needed to make sure to store foods that fit their needs and to be aware of the ingredients in the foods they are served at emergency shelters.

Checkpoint 3: “Handy Emergency Goods” – PWDs and their caregivers were given a short lecture about things around the house that come in handy in times of disaster, including flashlights, leather gloves, and towels. The facilitator also demonstrated the sound of a 3000hz whistle, which is the audio frequency most recommended by experts because of its ability to be heard over long distances by most people. Every participant received a similar whistle at the end of the day.

Checkpoint 4: “Taking Care of Our Health during a Disaster” – The facilitator stressed the importance of having a go-bag containing enough medication to last at least 3 days and of carrying around a copy of the list of medications one needs. As it is likely that symptoms can be aggravated by the stress of disasters, it was also stressed that it is crucial to talk with one’s doctor and caretakers and plan how to handle such situations. Once at an emergency shelter, one should not hesitate to tell those in charge of one’s needs (e.g., having to use the toilet, being unable to sit on the floor, being cold or thirsty, etc.) and to ask for assistance.

After the checkpoint exercise, the participants enjoyed a buffet-style lunch consisting of various kinds of emergency rations.

In the afternoon, the participants took part in three activities:

Registering at a Welfare Shelter: PWDs assisted staff members from Iwaki City Hall to pilot a questionnaire designed for the registration of PWDs at welfare shelters in times of emergency. Welfare shelters in Japan are shelters that accommodate to the needs of those with physical/medical/other needs that cannot be met at a traditional emergency shelter. The staff members commented that they greatly appreciated the honest feedback given to them by the PWDs and that they would work to improve the questionnaire to make it easier for PWDs to convey their needs.

Making My Own Space: This activity was particularly popular during the last simulation exercise so we incorporated it into this program as well. PWDs created their own sleeping/living spaces in the gymnasium using material such as cardboard and duct tape. Caretakers and volunteers assisted the PWDs with cutting and arranging the material to suit their needs.

Navigating while Blindfolded: Participants used blindfolds and walking sticks to experience what it is like to be visually-impaired. With the help of a seeing navigator, each participant was encouraged to walk around the gymnasium and within the shelter mock-up.

After the afternoon activities, all the participants came together to share their experiences of the day. The student note-takers took turns summarizing the comments made by their group and what they had collectively learned. Finally, some of the PWDs gave their feedback on the event. All in all, the participants expressed satisfaction with the day’s event. One participant commented that she wished they could have had more participants with other disabilities so there would be even more diversity and they could all learn how to support each other.

This event drew much local media attention as the only emergency shelter simulation of its kind (i.e., focusing on the needs of PWDs). Staff members from Iwaki City’s Social Welfare Council also came to observe the program and commented that they hoped to use this event as a model for future simulation activities throughout the city and perhaps even throughout Fukushima Prefecture.

Group photo at emergency shelter mock-up
Group photo at emergency shelter mock-up
Testing out lightweight emergency blankets
Testing out lightweight emergency blankets
Emergency rations are served for lunch
Emergency rations are served for lunch
Participants dance to a popular song during lunch
Participants dance to a popular song during lunch
"Shelter spaces" are created in the gymnasium
"Shelter spaces" are created in the gymnasium
Registration questionnaire pilot run
Registration questionnaire pilot run
Visual impairment exercise
Visual impairment exercise
Yoshiyuki Komatsu explaining the day
Yoshiyuki Komatsu explaining the day's schedule

On July 26, 2014, International Medical Corps and AAR Japan, in partnership with the local PWD-support organization Iwaki Jiritsu Seikatsu Center, conducted an emergency shelter simulation focused on the needs of PWDs, the first exercise of its kind in Japan. Over 70 people took part in this exercise, including 21 PWDs (11 visually-impaired, 9 physically disabled, and 1 hearing-impaired), 20 caregivers, and 11 junior high and high school students. The event took place in the gymnasium of Iwaki City’s Nakoso Second Junior High School, as school gymnasiums are the typical venue for an emergency evacuation shelter in Japan.

The day was divided into morning and afternoon sessions. The morning session, themed “Discovery,” split the PWDs, their caregivers, and non-PWDs into 4 groups and had them take turns participating in separate activities at 4 “checkpoints”. Each group had a “navigator” to explain the rules of each activity and to encourage the PWDs to take the lead in identifying problems and brainstorming solutions.

Checkpoint 1: “Barriers” – finding the various obstacles in a typical emergency shelter: People with different disabilities often experience obstacles in different ways. The participants explored the gymnasium and listed all the different barriers they found. They also discussed the various obstacles they faced in order to reach the gymnasium, such as navigating an extremely steep staircase and having to walk on slippery gravel. Those in wheelchairs had to be carried up the stairs by four people.

Checkpoint 2: “My Own Space”: A small-scale cardboard mockup of a “typical” emergency shelter was created in the center of the gymnasium, complete with narrow pathways, cardboard separations, etc. PWD participants were encouraged to explore the space and think about which spot in the gymnasium would be the best place to set up their living space. Individuals with visual impairments chose spaces near walls so that they could use them to feel their way as they walked around the gym, while individuals in wheelchairs tended to choose spaces near exits and toilets.

Checkpoint 3: “Items Available and Unavailable”: This exercise challenged participants to think about what necessary items they need depending on their particular type of disability, and check whether they could fulfill that need in the shelter. A selection of various objects and materials were then placed on a table in front of the participants, and they were encouraged to be creative in thinking how they would use different items to suit their needs.

Checkpoint 4: “Communicating”: PWDs were asked to think about what kind of assistance they would need (e.g., medication, specific assistance, dietary restrictions, etc.) and to practice conveying vital information at a mock registration desk. Additionally, participants wrote notes to check the status of loved ones, and taped them to a message board, which was a form of communication commonly used during the Tohoku disaster.

After the morning session, all the participants enjoyed a simple lunch consisting of “alpha-rice”, which is instant rice that can be made with either hot or cold water and often stored as emergency rations in places designated as emergency evacuation shelters. The participants commented that the rice tasted better than they expected.

In the afternoon, three additional activities were held:

Creating an “SOS Card”: All participants created their own SOS cards with their vital information, including emergency contact numbers, the names of their medication, allergies, illness or handicap, prosthetics, needed medical equipment, etc.

Making My Own Space: PWDs created their own “living quarters” in the gymnasium using various material available, such as gym mats, chairs, cardboard, etc. Other participants assisted the PWDs with using duct tape, cutters and scissors.

Supporting the Visually-Impaired: Mr. Wataru Murai, president of the Iwaki Social Welfare Association for the Blind, taught non-visually-impaired participants some pointers on how to guide visually-impaired individuals. A 30-foot obstacle course was also set up so that participants could use a blindfold and walking stick to experience a little of what it is like to be visually-impaired. In turn, visually-impaired participants borrowed the wheelchairs of those with physical disabilities and experienced what it is like to not be able to walk on their own.

At the end of the session, a final discussion was held where all participants could share their thoughts and lessons learned from the day’s activities. The lessons learned during this exercise will be utilized in the second emergency shelter simulation for PWDs that will be conducted in early October, 2014.

Discussing hazards posed by the slippery floor
Discussing hazards posed by the slippery floor
attempting to navigate the mock-up via wheelchair
attempting to navigate the mock-up via wheelchair
navigating the mock-up using a walking stick
navigating the mock-up using a walking stick
Junior-High School students handing out lunches
Junior-High School students handing out lunches
Sae (center) relaxing in her space with friends
Sae (center) relaxing in her space with friends
Training Participants at Futaba-no-Sato
Training Participants at Futaba-no-Sato

Between July 23 and 25, 2014, International Medical Corps and AAR Japan provided basic disaster training and distributed emergency evacuation kits to individuals working and/or receiving services at the Kibou no Mori Welfare Association. Kibou no Mori runs several job-creation facilities for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), as well as a rehabilitation center to help PWDs develop the skills they need to live independently in their community.

Over the three-day period, International Medical Corps’ Country Representative, Yumi Terahata, and AAR Japan’s Project Coordinator, Atsushi Naoe, visited 6 Kibou no Mori facilities to provide emergency preparedness training to residents and to distribute 212 emergency evacuation kits. During the training sessions, we emphasized the importance of being mentally and physically prepared for an emergency, such as: having an emergency plan with family and loved ones; stocking enough food, drinking water and water for daily needs in the home for at least three days; and writing out the names of medication, emergency contact numbers, and other important details, and always carrying around this information in case support is needed.

The Kibou no Mori facilities that employ PWDs and were visited by International Medical Corps for training and emergency evacuation kits included:

Keyaki Kyodo Sagyojo: Makes and delivers lunch boxes to regular customers, as well as, provides lunch delivery services for the elderly at the bequest of Iwaki City.

Kobo Keyaki: Under the philosophy of “Jisan-Jishou (produce locally, consume locally)”, this facility uses locally-grown soybeans to make “Iwaki-made tofu” and delivers this product to customers. This studio also runs a small café where customers can buy side dishes, tofu products and lunch boxes.

Atelier Kitayama: This facility uses the tofu and soy pulp produced at Kobo Keyaki to make donuts and cookies. They also make various side dishes. The staff also sells these products door-to-door.

Mori-no-Donuts: This shop makes and sells a wide variety of fried and baked donuts out of soy pulp. PWDs are on both the sides of production and customer service.

Futaba-no-Sato: The PWDs working at this facility collect old paper for recycling and create tin-buttons, rusk snacks, and small accessories.

Friends Kitayama: This facility assists PWDs in developing the skills necessary to live independently within the community. Here, they learn a wide range of life skills ranging from safety, both inside and outside the home; manners and etiquette; health and nutrition; simple budgeting, etc.

During the Tohoku Earthquake of 2011, the Keyaki Kyodo Sagyojo facility became an emergency evacuation center for the PWDs working there. More than 20 PWDs sheltered in the building, including 7 individuals who had to be evacuated from another Kibo no Mori facility located in Naraha, a town in close proximity to the nuclear power plant accident. Mr. Sugawara, the director-general of Kibou no Mori, spoke about his experience running this facility as a makeshift emergency shelter. 

"They all had to survive at Keyaki for a week until they received assistance from the local government. Fortunately, they had drinking water from a nearby well and collected water to flush the toilet from the river. They were also lucky in that they had food in stock, usually used for the bento services they provided."

This experience made Mr. Sugawara realize how Keyaki has the potential to also function as an emergency shelter for the community. Whereas during the Tohoku disaster they could only provide shelter and care for their users, Mr. Sugawara would like the facility to also be able to provide assistance to other vulnerable individuals in the community, such as the neighborhood elderly.

Yumi Terahata explaining disaster prep basics
Yumi Terahata explaining disaster prep basics
participant showing some evacuation kit contents
participant showing some evacuation kit contents
Participants examining a bag of emergency rations
Participants examining a bag of emergency rations

In the devastating earthquake that struck Japan in March 2011, the mortality rate of people with disabilities (PWDs) was more than double the rate of the general population. This higher-than-average mortality rate has been attributed to the needs of PWDs not being included in existing preparedness plans; physical obstacles at temporary shelters, (e.g. not accessible by wheelchair); lack of opportunities for PWDs to communicate their needs; lack of access to critical information; and a lack of necessary medication/medical equipment to meet PWDs’ needs at available shelters.

To ensure that people with disabilities do not suffer the same challenges in a future disaster, International Medical Corps and AAR Japan are partnering to provide guidance, build capacity, and support local organizations and communities in establishing emergency response standards that meet the needs of all people, especially PWDs. In order to achieve this, people with disabilities must be actively engaged in the earliest preparation and planning stages before a disaster strikes.

From July 23-25, International Medical Corps, AAR Japan and the Kibou no Mori Social Welfare Association will launch a series of activities to improve disaster preparedness for PWDs. International Medical Corps and AAR Japan will conduct a training session for PWDs on basic safety and evacuation procedures in six of Kibou no Mori’s facilities (two per day). Additionally, all participants in the training sessions will receive evacuation kits containing items such as: drinking water, non-perishable food, a first aid kit, a hand-crank flashlight/radio/siren, a basic hygiene kit, disposable toilets, an emergency blanket, an inflatable plastic sleeping mattress, and more. This training and the supplies will help people with disabilities be more prepared in advance of another disaster.

On July 26, International Medical Corps, AAR Japan, and local PWD-support facility Iwaki Jiritsu Seikatsu Center will conduct an emergency shelter simulation for PWDs. The simulation will include approximately 70 participants (20 PWDs, 20 certified helpers, 20 non-PWDs, and 10 staff members). The one-day event will take place at Nakoso Junior High School’s gymnasium, which also functioned as an emergency evacuation shelter after the 2011 disaster. During this simulation, PWDs and non-PWDs will work together to identify the obstacles PWDs face at the shelter, depending on their particular disabilities, and develop solutions to overcome challenges and better support PWDs. This will be the very first emergency shelter simulation in Japan to focus on the needs of PWDs.

By supporting local organizations in Japan, and focusing specifically on people with disabilities, International Medical Corps and AAR are building the capacity of Japanese communities to support all residents in the face of a future disaster. With your support, we continue to help Japanese communities build back better.

Yumi, Masayuki, and the Waiwai workshop staff
Yumi, Masayuki, and the Waiwai workshop staff

International Medical Corps and the Association for Aid and Relief (AAR) Japan continue to partner with each other to provide local Japanese non-profit organizations with the knowledge needed to increase their capacity to support People with Disabilities (PWDs) in the aftermath of an emergency. Special programs for PWDs focusing on disaster preparedness are very important in Japan, because the mortality rate for PWDs was more than double that of the average person during the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Given this startling figure, International Medical Corps and AAR Japan are working to help ensure PWDs are better prepared to respond effectively to a disaster, wherever they may find themselves at the time.

Since disaster preparedness advice in Japan is often directed at the general public without taking into account the particular vulnerabilities of PWDs, it is difficult for them to turn general disaster preparedness advice into an actionable emergency plan without additional support. One of International Medical Corps’ and AAR’s aims is to increase the resilience of PWDs by giving them both the material tools and knowledge to manage risk and take care of themselves in times of disasters. Building upon lessons learned while working with the Iwaki Jiritsu Seikatsu Center (a local non-profit organization supporting PWDs in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture) International Medical Corps and AAR Japan presented a disaster preparedness program at the Waiwai Workshop focused on helping PWDs in a future disaster situation.  

The Waiwai Workshop is a non-profit facility that runs a vocational training workshop for PWDs in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture. Mr. Masae Igari, the workshop’s director, and his staff strongly believe in supporting the independence of PWDs, and trainees here assemble light switches, high-end ballpoint pens, and handcrafts such as key-chains. This work provides an opportunity for PWDs to learn valuable skills while earning a steady wage, which fosters a sense of accomplishment and builds self-confidence. Currently, 24 PWDs are employed at the workshop and generally work from 8 in the morning until 5 in the evening, although some individuals have shorter shifts depending on their stamina and capabilities. The majority of the disabled workers have intellectual disabilities and the remaining individuals have psychological and/or physical disabilities.

The Waiwai Workshop had first-hand experience with large-scale disaster when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in March 2011. The subsequent tsunami flooded the first floor of the original workshop building to a height of three feet. In order to escape the flood waters, Waiwai staff members used a rope to lead everyone out of the building and up the street, in complete darkness, to shelter at a shrine located on top of a nearby hill. During the first month of the town’s recovery period, Mr. Igari opened his home to four staff members and eight workers.

The damage to the workshop was very extensive. Flooding from the tsunami destroyed all of the equipment on the first floor, and goods from a neighboring home improvement store were swept into the workshop by the waves, including fertilizer that leaked out from ripped bags and seeped into the floor of the facility. To make matters worse, the ground beneath the building sank by 11 inches. The building had to be torn down entirely and the ground under the new foundation was raised by 20 inches. The building was then reconstructed on top of the new, raised foundation.

AAR Japan was instrumental in the reconstruction of the facility, bringing in the majority of much-needed funding, facilitating the logistics, and ensuring that the construction work was done according to building standards. The reconstructed building incorporated a number of improvements in terms of its accessibility as well as emergency preparedness. Height differences between floors were significantly reduced, a ramp was installed at the entrance, and a handrail was installed on the staircase. In case of emergency, the workers can now quickly get out of the building through one of three exits.  

On March 7, 2014, International Medical Corps and AAR Japan conducted disaster preparedness training and distributed emergency evacuation kits to a total of 42 individuals (28 PWDs and 14 other staff members) of the Waiwai Workshop. International Medical Corps’ Country Representative Yumi Terahata, AAR project coordinators Atsushi Naoe and Masayuki Okada, and Katsuhiko Kyono from Iwate Social Welfare Council conducted basic training to increase the workers’ knowledge about the hazards present during a disaster and what to do when those hazards occur. This training utilized an emergency preparedness manual that Iwate Social Welfare Council had created specifically for PWDs.

During the training session, International Medical Corps and AAR Japan demonstrated how to use the items in the emergency kits. Each kit was packed into a backpack and included 30 essential items, including: drinking water, non-perishable food, a first aid kit, a hand-crank flashlight/radio/siren, a basic hygiene kit, disposable toilets, an emergency blanket, an inflatable plastic sleeping mattress, etc. Further, because each emergency kit must also be custom-tailored by each individual to meet their particular needs (such as prescription medication, emergency contact information, and the like), possibilities for additional items were also discussed.

After the training, Mr. Igari said, “We are very happy with this preparedness training and grateful for the emergency kits. Up until now, we were too overwhelmed with dealing with the aftermath of the last disaster that we couldn’t spare the time to think about dealing with future dangers. Now that it’s been almost a year since we moved into our new building, I feel we’re able to breathe a little. We were just starting to discuss amongst ourselves how we need to be prepared for future disasters, but we were honestly at a loss as to how to go about it. I feel that your help comes at the perfect time.”

Katsuhiko Kyono giving a strategy lesson
Katsuhiko Kyono giving a strategy lesson
Emergency Preparedness Manual
Emergency Preparedness Manual
WaiWai workers assembling their disaster kits
WaiWai workers assembling their disaster kits
Experimenting with the emergency whistle
Experimenting with the emergency whistle
Global Giving support made this workshop possible!
Global Giving support made this workshop possible!

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Project Leader

Erica Tavares

Director, Resource Development
Washington, DC United States

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