If a major earthquake occurs along the Nankai Trough, it is expected to cause tsunami reaching around 30 feet in height in the urban area of Susaki, Kochi prefecture. Students at two high schools in the coastal city are becoming future leaders for disaster prevention activities in their region.
At the end of January, at Kochi Prefectural Susaki High School, student volunteers on the disaster prevention project team reflected on the evacuation drill they had conducted with local residents the previous month: “The tsunami would catch up with us.”
For the drill, elderly people from 20 households were accompanied by students as they walked from their homes to the evacuation site. On a screen, an app developed by Kyoto University’s Disaster Prevention Research Institute displayed the movements of the evacuees.
The area on the screen became covered in blue when the hypothetical tsunami arrived. Students discussed the results, with comments such as, “If we don’t evacuate within 20 minutes of the earthquake, we won’t make it.”
Since holding an earthquake forum in the 2010 academic year, the high school has been putting efforts into disaster prevention.
The team was formed two years later. Its members have organized such voluntary after-school and weekend activities, including stabilizing the furniture in elderly people’s homes and performing plays, to promote disaster prevention.
This past academic year, around 40 students conducted an evacuation drill and also created and provided maps for each elderly person showing hazards on the way from their homes to evacuation sites.
During these activities, third-year student Shunsuke Takebayashi, 18, met an elderly person who had relinquished any intention of pursuing an escape plan, believing that any such efforts would be futile.
“I started to think about what I could do to prevent deaths,” he said.
The students’ activities are raising awareness of disaster prevention locally. District representative Yoshiaki Takahashi, 52, who participated in the evacuation drill, said, “Some people started participating in the drill because they were happy that high school students were talking to them.”
Nursing teacher Harumi Hokawa, 48, who supervises the team, has high expectations: “After they graduate, I hope they will help different regions prepare for disasters and save lives.”
Meanwhile, at Susaki Technical High School, which is designated as an evacuation site in the event of a disaster, students learning craftsmanship have been remaking everyday objects into disaster prevention tools as part of their class and student council activities since the 2014 school year.
They modify steel drums to make pots to prepare food, use tarps to make partitions, and cut openings in the seats of classroom chairs to set up makeshift portable toilets, all for circumstances accompanying an emergency.
Students from the two high schools participated in a disaster prevention summit for high school students in November last year, in which students from 30 countries gathered in Kochi prefecture.
The following December, they introduced their activities to the prefectural governor and proposed regional evacuation drills with the participation of high school students.
The two schools are scheduled to merge in the 2019 academic year. Hokawa says, “I hope we can start some new projects with the combination of Susaki High’s local connections and Susaki Technical High’s craftsmanship.”