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More subway stations marked as evacuation sites

TOKYO >> Taking a lesson from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Japan is designating more and more underground train stations as evacuation sites in the event of an attack from a foreign country. In Ukraine, residents have taken to sheltering in underground stations.

The selections of stations by local governments started in March 2021, and there are now more than 300 designated evacuation stations around the country.

Yet while Tokyo has a well- developed subway network, no stations at the capital have been selected.

Out of Osaka Metro’s 133 underground train stations, 108 have been designated as evacuation facilities.

“They cannot stop nuclear weapons, of course, but having (such sites) increases the chances of saving lives from the destructive power of certain missiles,” said Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui.

Local governments do not designate areas inside ticket gates as shelters. This prevents evacuees from falling onto train tracks. Officials regard the underground spaces as temporary emergency sites, with the expectation that people will move to another site within several hours.

In preparation for an emergency such as a missile strike, governors and mayors of designated cities are required to classify spaces as evacuation facilities, according to the Civil Protection Law that went into effect in 2004. Such facilities include sturdy buildings, underground malls and subway stations.

As of April 2020, of about 94,000 designated facilities, 1,127 were underground, but train stations were not among them. In response, the central government in December 2020 requested that local governments work toward designating subway stations and underground malls as evacuation sites.

Tokyo’s city government is currently considering 100 stations to serve as emergency evacuation facilities, but none have yet been designated because officials say the number of evacuees would be too large for station staffs to handle. Treating the injured and providing food to so many people would be difficult in a prolonged evacuation.

“We understand that underground train stations are useful as evacuation sites,” said a Tokyo official. “We’d like to continue considering designations while consulting with cities that have made (such designations).”

Meanwhile, some experts believe most underground train stations in Japan are not deep enough underground to provide significant protection.

Arsenalna Station in Kyiv is located about 345 feet underground, while Osaka Business Park Station, the deepest underground among the Osaka Metro network, is just 105 feet beneath ground. Tokyo’s Toei Subway network is about 138 feet underground.

“Even if you were to evacuate to an underground train station in Japan, there is the risk of considerable damage being done by a missile with high destructive power,” said Naofumi Miyasaka, a professor at the National Defense Academy.

But Miyasaka noted that evacuating underground makes sense since Japan is an island nation with limited options for escaping an attack.

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