With the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake as a wake-up call, the education ministry wants to ensure that all schools across the nation have an early earthquake alert system.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will likely request funds in the fiscal 2012 budget to install the receiver system at the country's 52,000 national, municipal and private schools.
The system will enable schools to receive the Japan Meteorological Agency's (JMA) early earthquake alerts and rebroadcast them to notify students.
The broadcasts predict the earthquake's intensity and arrival time, based upon locations of schools, such as, "A level-5 earthquake will occur in 20 seconds."
While the JMA's emergency alert is broadcast over television, radios and some types of cellphones, TVs are usually located only in a few rooms at schools. When they are turned off, there is no way to receive the JMA alert, as was the case at many schools when the March 11 quake struck.
In addition, even if a teacher or a school staffer heard the warning, it takes time for the message to be relayed to students, which could hamper their evacuation.
On March 11, many pupils were injured by falling glass from broken windows. Experts say such injuries could have been prevented if schools had been warned of the earthquake beforehand.
A panel of experts the ministry appointed after the earthquake said, "Children were able to evacuate calmly at some elementary schools which had conducted evacuation drills assuming an emergency warning."
In its interim report, the panel recommended that the government should install a system to receive JMA's earthquake warnings at all schools as soon as possible. The schools that will have the system installed are all kindergartens and elementary, junior high and high schools and special needs schools.
The ministry also plans to have schools conduct drills so that students can react properly when an earthquake alert is received.
The safety suggestions for students include ducking under their desks and securing themselves or covering their heads with a cushion; getting away from locations where broken shards of glass or lighting fixtures may fall; turning off the stoves in the kitchen; and securing an evacuation route, opening the door.
"I hope children will learn to act and protect themselves calmly when they are at home or outside, too," a ministry official said.
Currently, few schools have the emergency alert receiving system installed, which costs about 300,000 yen ($3,900).
According to the prefectural board of education in Chiba and Saitama, for example, only slightly more than 1 percent of the public elementary, junior high, and high schools in each prefecture are equipped with such a system.
Many municipalities are reluctant to do so due to the financial burdens already facing them, the ministry said.
On the other hand, all Tokyo metropolitan high schools and special needs schools had the warning system installed in fiscal 2008.
(This article was written by Yuta Hanano and Yuichi Inoue.)
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