Disaster emergency information fails to reach the Deaf community in Ibaraki Prefecture

June 23, 2011

In Ibaraki Prefecture, it was found out that when the great earthquake hit East Japan, the emergency information on disaster including tsunami, water supply, etc. through the local administration's wireless broadcast didn't reach the Deaf residents, because it is possible mainly through the audio method.

"I could do nothing but followed my colleagues who were running away together to an in-house evacuation site."

OUCHI Masakzu (48), a Deaf resident in Hitachi City, Ibaraki Prefecture, was working at the company in the city when the earthquake hit the area on March 11. He did not hear at all though at the time of the approaching tsunami there was broadcasting that called for shelter via 92 disaster prevention administrative wirelesses in the city.

Ouchi, unaware of a tsunami, left the company by car around 17:00 to return home. His home was located far from the coast by about 500 meters. He was surprised when arriving at home to see the dramatically changed view. The house the nearest the sea in four front of the houses had collapsed due to the tsunami. The surrounding block wall had the mark that the water came up to about five meters in height though his home was safe except the above the floor level flooded. Ouchi signed, "It was that time when I got scary for the first time."

The Hitachi City Society of the Deaf which Ouchi serves as the president conducted the questionnaire for 54 members after the earthquake.

Twenty members answered as the following result:
- 7 members never got the disaster emergency information.
- 13 got e-mail from friends and relatives, or their neighbor told about the tsunami.
- only one person got a fax message from the City Welfare Division for Persons with Disabilities.

The Deaf residents in the prefecture are estimated 7,054 (as of the end of March) according to the Ibaraki Prefecture Welfare Division for Persons with Disabilities.

Also the informal meeting with city officers, etc. and the society members in the beginning of June was held. There were opinions and requests one after another;
- "I could survive if the officer who can act as a sign language interpreter turns round the evacuation sites,"
- "I was not informed and had to follow the people around for evacuation," etc.

The Deaf community pointed out that there is the "digital divide".

HISAMATSU Mitsuji, director of the Japanese Federation of the Deaf commented about the result of the survey in the Hitachi City, "There was a similar state also in many other regions."

"The municipality should make the system so that it contacts the residents directly. From a Deaf point of view as a tax payer, the regional differential should not happen. It should be dealt with by the politics of the Government."


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