Edogawa Raises Eyebrows with Disaster Pamphlet

Disaster Lifestyle

The flooding hazard map published by the eastern Tokyo city of Edogawa has attracted attention for its shocking tone. Fully 70% of the city lies below the high tide mark, and the municipal government says it used blunt language to get its message across.

Disaster Pamphlet Prompts Reaction

You might come across a pamphlet bearing a map of Edogawa emblazoned with the warning “do not remain here.” This is the city’s official flooding hazard map, recently revised for the first time in 11 years. When the map was distributed to all households in Edogawa and posted online in May this year, it attracted significant reaction on social media for what was seen as its hysterical tone.

The cover of the alarming pamphlet.
The cover of the alarming pamphlet.

According to the pamphlet, the rivers that run through Edogawa have a catchment area that covers half of Kantō. Straddling such major rivers as the Arakawa and Edogawa, 70% of the city lies below the high tide mark. The pamphlet states that if a river overflows its banks due to a massive typhoon or torrential rain, or there is an usually high tide, thereby overwhelming stormwater drains, most of the city will flood. The pamphlet states that in such an event, the neighboring low-lying cities of Sumida, Kōtō, Adachi, and Katsushika would also flood, affecting 2.5 million people in all. As floodwaters could take over two weeks to recede, residents should not be complacent just because they live in an apartment building or on a higher floor, warns the publication. Furthermore, flooding on this scale would stretch rescue services, meaning residents would have no idea of when they might be rescued. In that event, residents could be forced to spend weeks without power, gas, water, or toilet facilities, it is claimed. The pamphlet actually goes so far as to tell residents they cannot stay in their homes or communities.

It was the bluntness of the ‘do not remain here’ message coming from a municipal government that made waves on Twitter, with users of the platform divided on the merits of the pamphlet.

Many Twitter users were critical of the publication. “As a resident of Edogawa, this is terrible,” wrote one. Another scoffed: “Are they saying that if we should leave town if we don’t want to die?”

“This had me laughing out loud,” wrote another tweeter. “I never imagined the local government would tell me to leave town.” And another wondered about the deeper message of the pamphlet: “Are they saying that we are not welcome in Edogawa?”

There were supportive tweets too, though. “You have to be blunt if you want people to take notice,” noted one person, while another added, “I like the way they give us the facts without downplaying or sugar-coating things.” Some replied to the negative comments that cropped up on social media: “They’re not saying you can’t live here—just that you need to leave town if an evacuation order is issued.”

Getting the Message Across

We asked the team behind the pamphlet why they used such blunt language, and what the reaction had been like from city residents. One municipal official said: “Our concern is ensuring that people use the hazard map to get informed, think about evacuating to a remote location, and take action for their own safety. Our choice of language reflects that concern.”

The team stressed that the pamphlet’s messages went beyond the alarming phrases on its cover. “We want people to take a look at the inside of the pamphlet as well. To understand the Edogawa landscape, including the high and low points on the map; to understand what would happen in a flood; and to think about their options for evacuating to a remote location.”

What prompted Edogawa to update its hazard map? Officials we spoke to noted that the revised version of the hazard map was released in response to the 2015 amendment to the Flood Control Act, and that it differs from the previous hazard map, issued in 2008, in three respects. Firstly, the new map is based on the probable maximum flood. The previous map was based on the flood assumed by the disaster plan (i.e. on the rainfall levels that formed the basis for the flood defense plan), but the new map is based on the largest conceivable flood possible. The new map also shows what parts of Edogawa would be submerged during an extra high tide. Finally, the map now includes information on how long floodwaters would take to recede. The pamphlet also includes a large map showing the maximum extent of flooding arising if flooding of both the Arakawa and Edogawa coincides with an extra high tide.

The Risks of “Vertical Evacuation”

So what is wrong with simply evacuating vertically, that is, moving to a higher floor of one’s building until floodwaters recede? The pamphlet team told us that while vertical evacuation is one approach, as the hazard map states, floodwaters may take weeks to recede. Any floods would likely occur in midsummer, when temperatures were high, and that surviving without power, gas, water, or toilet facilities in the middle of summer is no mean feat. Such poor conditions can also lead to a secondary harm in the form of illness and injuries. The city’s recommendation, therefore, is for residents to evacuate to a safe location that is free of flooding.

According to the team, three days before a flood is predicted to hit, the governments of the five low-lying eastern Tokyo cities would begin joint discussions. Two days before, residents would be asked to voluntarily evacuate to remote locations. One day before, an evacuation warning would be issued. Finally, nine hours before the floods is predicted to hit, because of the danger of attempting a last-minute evacuation, the cities would instruct residents to move immediately to a higher floor (vertical evacuation). Edogawa is asking people to act ahead of time, to avoid that eventuality.

Were the Katsushika, Sumida, Kōtō, and Adachi governments upset by the claims that the majority of those cities would be flooded too? Not at all: The low-lying municipalities actually jointly released a flooding hazard map in August 2018, before the revised Edogawa hazard map was drawn. Because the joint map forms the basis for the Edogawa hazard map, there were no such issues with the other cities.

When asked about the public reaction to the updated hazard map, the team told us that they have received a range of feedback, with some individuals agreeing that they need to think for themselves about disaster preparedness, and others saying that evacuation sites should be provided outside Edogawa. (The Edogawa government is currently unable to provide public evacuation sites outside the city.)

According to the team, while the strong wording of the pamphlet attracted criticism on social media, the comments received by the government contained no such criticism. The pamphlet team told us that the hazard map contains information on what people should pack in their evacuation kits, a page for writing down phone numbers and evacuation locations, and other information that would be handy in an emergency. They added that in addition to being distributed to every household in the city, the pamphlet is also available at all Edogawa government offices. Finally, they mentioned normalcy bias, the phenomenon whereby people assume that an unfolding disaster will not affect them. They said they believe people need to use resources like the hazard map to gain a better understanding of disaster preparedness in their local area and learn to anticipate the worst-case scenario.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on June 6, 2019. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)

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