SPECIAL vol.27 Daily room-leader meetings sustained community initiative and consensus building
by Voices from the Field Admin - Sunday, 4 October 2015, 08:11 PM

Daily room-leader meetings sustained community initiative and consensus building


At the time of the earthquake, I was director of the town's art performing center, named Kokusai-mura (or, in English, International Village). It was turned into an evacuation center immediately after the quake. During the emergency meeting organized by the town administration immediately after the quake, the mayor asked us to be careful of disaster-related deaths, and ordered the Central Public Hall and Kokusai-mura to be the final destinations for allevacuees. Since then, my main concern was to prevent evacuees from dying in the evacuation center.

              One hour after the disaster, about 250 people ran into the entrance hall. I prepared a register promptly in order to find missing people and count heads for meal preparation. A power generator was also installed so that we couldcollect information through a TV. This made the evacuees calm down as they could now get some sense of what was going on.

              One week later, the number of evacuees rose up to 389. People who required special support, such as wheelchair users, intellectually-disabled people, mothers with infants and pregnant women were included among them. I allocated the rooms by neighborhood district for the general evacuees, but prepared special welfare rooms for those who needed extra care, and also made special arrangements for their toilets and meals.

              The room leader and monitors for meals, garbage, clean-up and health, respectively, were designated in each room. This led to involving everyone in managing the evacuation center. Daily room-leader meetings were organized to share the updates about the town administration, external support and difficulties and inquiries from the residents. The room-leaders tried to build the residents' consensus on house rules and solutions for problems. Repeating this day after day helped strengthen communication, promote mutual help among the evacuees, and sustain smooth operations.


Various initiatives


              It took 7 to 10 days to get blankets delivered because the emergency supplies warehouse in Shobuta-hama was damaged, and the cargo trucks at the Self-Defense Force base in Tagajo were inundated. I provided the blankets to the vulnerable evacuees first since the number was limited to 50. Thanks to Kansai Electric Power, who brought a power generating vehicle, electricity was provided for three days until the power by Tohoku Electric Power was resumed. The evacuees were not inconvenienced too much from the shortage of blankets because the heaters worked well. I heard in other evacuation centers, the evacuees' cars blocked the power generating vehicle, causing further delays in the power supply.

              The medical teams, including from Shimane Prefecture, kept supporting us around-the-clock all the way until two weeks before the center was closed. They were divided into 15 groups, and each group was on duty on a 4-day rotation. In order to prevent the spread of influenza and norovirus, we set up isolationrooms using the backstage area, and established a direct approach from those rooms to the toilets.

              Since the day after the quake, a "welfare evacuation room" was designated close to the toilets which were for people with disabilities. The room was allocated to wheelchair users and intellectually disabled evacuees prior to others. The evacuees with different disabilities stayed in the same room without any trouble because many of them knew each other since before the disaster. The caretakers accompanied the evacuees with intellectual disabilities. It took 10 to 15 days to complete the room allocation.

              Five days after the disaster, the fatigue and stress of mothers with infants peaked, and both mothers and infants began developing fevers. They had caught a cold while mothers cared for their babies in the cold outside. The mothers were hesitant to stay inside with crying babies at night. After 15 days, I set up a special room for families with babies. It released their stress because even if the babies cried, they understood and could help each other. Actually, nurseries in the community were designated as evacuation centers as well. Therefore, the nursery staff were forced to manage the shelters and could not fulfill their primary role as caregivers for children and mothers. After closing the evacuation center, I thought in hindsight that nurseries should be used as secondary evacuation centers for the special purpose to care for families with infants, and not be used as general evacuation centers, as much as possible.

              The room-leaders reached an agreement to also allocate special rooms for children. It was a response to the request from students and their parents preparing for school entrance exams.

              The meals were basically provided room by room, but as it tended to get very crowded, we gave priority to the older evacuees and the children. We also handled special requests, such as to make porridge for someone with weak biting force.

              One day, we were forced to manage a massive amount of supplies at Kokusai-mura, such as drinking water, socks and incontinence pads, as there was no other place for a 14-ton delivery truck to park late at night. Clothes and shoes were laid out on shelves by size, separately for males and females, for distribution. We did not place the supplies out in boxes for people to freely take from in order to prevent queue jumping and other troubles which could lead to degrading the situation at the center. With regards to the underwear distribution, the health monitors took specific requests from the residents and distributed them accordingly.

              198 tons of water were secured from the pond for the toilets. The toilet rule of filling the tank with a bucket of water to flush, penetrated very quickly. Temporary toilets outside were inaccessible for wheelchair users, even if there were steps or handrails. So, we prohibited the general evacuees to use the existing toilets inside the facility which were appropriate for people with disabilities. We asked the people with disabilities to wear a badge so that they could be distinguished.

              Pets were treated as family members by some evacuees. Given the limited number of rooms in the facility, the warehouse was provided instead as the special room for families with pets.


Mr. Katsuaki Hoshi, 59-year-old

Director of Kokusai-mura

Address as of the earthquake: Shobuta-hama

Current address: the same as above