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Traffic control policy for large-scale disasters is changed significantly

Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department announced on March 5, 2012 that its traffic control policy has been updated significantly. Almost one year has passed since the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, when the central part of the Tokyo metropolitan area experienced heavy traffic congestion with people trying to return to their homes. As a result, there were instances when emergency vehicles could not arrive quickly to places where people needed them.

Learning from that experience, the new department plan aims to improve the performance of emergency vehicles, especially police cars, fire engines and ambulances. Before the new plan, vehicles bringing emergency supplies to specific places were allowed. Under the new plan, the focus is on saving people who need critical attention.

Another big change, in the new plan, is the advice to people who are driving when a big earthquake hits. Before this change, a person in a car must stop driving and evacuate immediately. He must leave the car with the engine key in it. After learning from the March 11 earthquake and many subsequent fire drills, this rule was changed to: a car must stop immediately and check the situation on the road. If it is safe to go then proceed to the nearest parking spot or continue safely on one’s way. Do not leave the car there, instead one needs to move the car to a safe place.

Also after an earthquake all public transportation is halted, so everyone tries to pick up family members who cannot return home. The department now says, “Don’t use your car to pick up a family member”. Although previously both the movement by car in-and-out of the center of Tokyo in the time of a disaster was forbidden, the new regulation allows cars which start from the center of Tokyo to leave, but cars trying to enter the center of Tokyo will be prohibited.

The new regulation hopes to reduce the number of the cars actually in the center of Tokyo by encouraging people to evacuate from the center of Tokyo by car at the time of the disaster. It is expected to help emergency vehicles move around the city center much more smoothly.

March 19th, 2012

Katsuyuki Imagawa, Japan Local Government Center