Ahead of Olympics, Tokyo prepares foreigners for potential disasters


TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo 2020 organizers are putting the final touches to preparations less than six months out from the start of the Olympics but the area they are most concerned about remains readiness for any natural disaster striking during the Games.

Participants take part in fire extinguisher training during a disaster preparedness drill for foreign residents in Tokyo, Japan, January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

With thousands of foreigners expected to descend on Tokyo for the July 24 to Aug. 9 event, organizers are acutely aware of the need to provide clear instructions in English and raise awareness of what to do in case of an earthquake or tsunami.

On Tuesday, over 200 of Tokyo’s approximately 570,000 foreign residents gathered at Musashino Forest Sports Plaza, which will stage events during the Olympics, to run through drills aimed at making them more disaster-savvy.

As well as testing earthquake simulators, the participants were also taught how to use fire extinguishers, walk through smoke-filled rooms, phone the police in case of emergency and even what exercises to do if stuck in an evacuation shelter.

Japan is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to typhoons and earthquakes, and experiences an average of 1,500 temblors a year, although few cause any damage, let alone loss of life.

However, experts believe there is a 70% chance of a major earthquake striking the Japanese capital in the next 30 years.

Because of this, the foreign residents welcomed all the advice they could get.

“For the Japanese government to hold an event like this, it really helps foreigners like me because kids in Japan are already taught in school but we have no idea,” said Vietnamese student Hoa Nguyen, who has lived in Japan for over a year.

Over 30 interpreters, speaking six different languages, were on hand to help the participants, who hailed from 44 countries.

“I actually think it is amazing the effort they tell you … to prepare, prepare, prepare because it is easy to go through daily life and not worry about it,” said Rodrigo Coronel, the Nicaraguan ambassador to Japan.

“So, the Tokyo government has done a fantastic job with these kinds of events.”

Last year, Tokyo 2020 organizers held an earthquake drill at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre, a newly built venue for the Olympics, as part of their growing contingency plan ahead of the Games.

Olympics organizers will also want to learn from the Rugby World Cup last year, when a powerful typhoon struck, prompting the unprecedented cancellation of three matches.

Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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