Fires, earthquakes and typhoons

September is safety awareness month in Japan so the focus of this week’s staff meeting was school safety. As Richard says, it looks like our best bet in terms of fire or serious earthquake is to pray that we don’t experience either one! Like most buildings in Japan, neither our schools nor our apartment are equipped with smoke detectors. None of the classrooms are at ground level. Most are on the third or fourth floor, often accessed by very narrow stairways, and none have proper fire escapes. There are rope ladders to use in the case of an emergency but I don’t want to be the teacher who has to convince a class of frightened five or six years olds to climb down one of those to the pavement below!

The instructions in case of a fire are much the same as they would be at home. Remain calm, account for all students, leave personal belongings behind, close doors and windows if possible, and relocate to a designated meeting area away from the school. Earthquake instructions are much the same but also include turning off gas and electrical appliances to prevent fire and watching out for falling objects and broken glass. While the building is still shaking, it’s advisable to take cover under a table or to stand inside a door frame. Bathrooms are also sturdier than most other rooms so they are considered good places to wait out a quake. Opening a door or window is recommended as once a building shifts, people are sometimes trapped inside because they can’t get the doors open. Fortunately, Japanese schools conduct earthquake drills, much like the fire drills that we’re familiar with at home, so the students are well acquainted with what to do should one occur.

At this time of year, the biggest safety concern is typhoons. A typhoon is the same thing as a hurricane. These are strong tropical cyclones with winds of up to 180 miles an hour and heavy rainfall. Typhoons that hit Japan are often accompanied by damaging high tides and landslides are also a serious concern. Schools generally close during a typhoon but our general manager doesn’t see fit to close MIL. Of course, teachers cannot always get there because trains often stop running and traffic comes to a standstill. Does this sound familiar to any of you Battle River teachers?

The good thing about typhoons is that they move slowly and there is always plenty of warning when one is on it’s way. When we see our neighbours securing or taking in all the movable objects from their yards and balconies, we’ll know there’s a typhoon coming. Our apartment is equipped with metal shutters to cover our large windows and keep them from shattering and the glass in the smaller windows is reinforced with wire. Some of our classrooms have large windows that don’t have shutters but there are places within each school where we could move the students during a severe storm so that they would be safe from flying glass. Japanese buildings are not well sealed (which helps explain how the insects get in) so leakage around windows and doors is also common during a typhoon.

So, does all this have me shaking with fright?  Not at all.  We knew that Japan was a land of earthquakes and typhoons before we left the relative safety of the Canadian prairie but I believe that this is where we’re meant to be and that we will weather whatever storms may lie ahead.  Just think of the stories we might have to tell!


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