Tsunami Drills at School in Japan

Growing up, I remember seeing the red bells along school halls, and wondering when they would ring to let us outside for a bit.  Fire Drills were a common enough event, but in Arizona there is little fear of earthquake, tornado, or other natural disaster.  I didn’t experience my first quake until I came to Japan and was working out in my garden.  There was a noise like a big truck driving by, windows shook, and the ground moved a bit under me.

Since then, I’ve felt a few other small tremors and have sat through several strong typhoons.  I was even on a little island of only 13 km² when the Tohoku quake struck in 2011.  We had tsunami warnings, but luckily we were far enough south, and high enough out of the water to be in no danger.  This past weekend, we again had a tsunami warning during the Kyubon Festival of 1/2 a meter due to the Philippines earthquake.  Again, there was no danger provided one stayed off the beach, but it definitely put a new perspective on the yearly Tsunami Drill that Kumejima performs every year.  The island is mountainous and thus relatively safe, however, there are a few key areas that would be in danger of a massive 10 meter or larger wave.

Yesterday, after one period of classes, a senior made an announcement that a large earthquake had struck.  Students were instructed to shelter under the desks.  A few moments later, he announced a large tsunami warning.  Students were ushered from their classrooms by different routes to avoid congestion, they then jogged along with teachers through the sugar cane fields behind the school and up a mountain.  The school had a specific route, again to limit congestion since there is an elementary school, nursery, and other buildings around.  There was also a van for injured students.

As you might expect, not all the students made the trek easily.  Those not used to jogging had a hard time and made it to the top of the mountain well after the 8 minute target point, they were however, above the 10 meter mark by that time.  It was interesting to jog along with my students, and I cursed my crocs and thanked my afternoon runs.

Since it was a drill, students were allowed to wear their track suits and PE gear rather than usual clothes, but it was an effort for all involved.  Still, it was good to know that such clear plans are in place and practiced.  At the top of the hill, students, government workers, and local area residents all were rewarded with Kume Island’s breathtaking views and a clear sunny day.