After its initial request was largely ignored, the Tokyo metropolitan government threatened to fine owners of old buildings on main roads who fail to conduct tests to ensure the structures can withstand major earthquakes.
The response, again, has been lukewarm.
The government made the tests mandatory in April--the first requirement of its kind in the nation--to prevent aging buildings from collapsing on trunk roads and blocking emergency vehicles trying to rescue people in the aftermath of a devastating quake.
So far only 26 percent of the 5,000 targeted buildings have complied with the new rule. Many other building owners say they simply cannot afford the possible consequences if their buildings are found to be of insufficient strength.
Subject to the mandatory checks are structures along roads stretching 1,000 kilometers, or half the total length of roads designated as “emergency transportation routes" in the capital.
The targeted buildings were built before June 1981, when the nation’s quake-resistance standards were strengthened, and have a height that measures more than half of the width of the road they are facing.
“We have moved to make the checks mandatory because many owners have failed to comply with our calls for seismic modifications,” an official handling the matter at the Tokyo metropolitan government said.
The metropolitan government previously asked the owners of the 5,000 buildings to report if they had had conducted such strength checks in the past.
Of the 3,800 building owners who responded, about 3,000 said they had yet to do such tests.
Tokyo is said to be long overdue for a huge earthquake, and the metropolitan government, in charge of the safety of 13 million people, said it needs to secure smooth passage of ambulances and vehicles carrying relief supplies if such a temblor rocks the sprawling metropolis.
When the Great Hanshin Earthquake hit the Kobe area in January 1995, rubble from collapsed buildings prevented many fire engines from reaching the enormous fires raging in the city.
Since last summer, after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, Tokyo metropolitan government officials have visited the targeted buildings to distribute leaflets explaining the tests will become mandatory procedure from fiscal 2012.
Violators face a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($6,330).
A quake-resistance check costs several million yen to around 10 million yen. However, the central and metropolitan governments will provide subsidies for all inspection costs for buildings with a total floor space of up to 10,000 square meters through fiscal 2013.
Itsuki Nakabayashi, professor of disaster prevention at Meiji University’s Graduate School of Political Science and Economics, stressed that work to strengthen buildings must get under way soon.
“Securing roads is vital in our response to deal with a disaster striking the city,” Nakabayashi said. “Reinforcement costs are not small, but owners should strengthen their buildings because it will lead to protecting their workplaces or living quarters.”
Many building owners, however, have expressed bewilderment over the government’s requirement.
“Even if a quake inspection is compulsory, we will have to win the consent of all residents to get it done,” said a man who owns a five-story, 40-year-old apartment building in Suginami Ward. Fifteen households live there.
If the building is found to be inadequate, residents may be asked to move out temporarily while quake-resistance work is carried out.
“Who is going to finance the costs to do so?” asked the owner. “I understand that many buildings need to be strengthened, but I am cash-strapped.”
Some building owners could be forced to suspend business operations if they cannot afford the seismic retrofits.
A long-established fruit shop in front of a main road in Tokyo’s Kanda district has been closed since March after an inspection found the eight-story building, built in 1965, was not strong enough.
Owners of such buildings can turn to a program that will subsidize part of the quake-reinforcement costs. But in some cases they still must pay tens of millions of yen themselves.
Other local governments are considering measures similar to those in Tokyo.
When it was drawing up its fiscal 2012 budget, the Osaka prefectural government planned to use subsidies of up to 2 million yen to cover two-thirds of the inspection costs for each of the buildings along main roads.
But it shelved those plans due to a lack of funds.
The Aichi prefectural government acknowledged that reinforcing structures along key roads is important, but so far no action has been taken in the central Japan prefecture.
- « Prev
- Next »