Pre-earthquake measures in Tokyo

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Main actors

City Government, Private Sector, Public Utility

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Project area

Metropolitan Area

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Ongoing since 2012/01

The City of Tokyo has introduced a series of measures to reduce the number of people becoming stranded in the metropolitan area in emergency situations.  

As a consequence of the earthquake in 2011, the city of Tokyo’s transport and communication system collapsed leaving millions of people stranded within the metropolitan area and unable to return home for hours, some even days. Subsequently the city administration established Advisory Boards to develop strategies to reduce the number of potentially stranded people through measures such as more public shelters, emergency supplies at work places and educations institutions and better communication infrastructure.

This case study was contributed from the UCLG Learning Team (

Sustainable Development Goals

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Tokyo is the capital city of Japan and the political, economic and cultural centre. Due to its locations among major folds of the earth crust, the city faces a high risk of earthquakes and their side effects including landslides and tsunamis.

Tokyo is home to more than 13 million people, with the population of the surrounding metropolitan area close to 38 million. A significant part of the metropolitan population commutes to work or to education institutions every day, either from the suburbs to the city or from one neighborhood to another.

Past emergencies, such as the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, have shown that if the city suffers such a crisis the transport and communication system can be severely affected or totally collapse. Therefore, the aim of disaster management measures is to maintain functionality of the capital and save people’s lives.

To increase the cities resilience around stress on the transport and communication system in times of crisis, the City of Tokyo has established comprehensive disaster management measures. These measures  guarantee the cooperation between all stakeholders and foster self-help, mutual assistance and public help. Furthermore, the approach includes the establishment of back-up services that can soften the collapse of certain systems. To directly tackle the issue of stranded people during emergency situations advisory boards have been set up to establish counter measures.

The main findings and recommendations have been:

  1. Prevent people from heading home all at once
  2. Secure temporary shelters
  3. Provide communication tools and information service
  4. Assist people returning home

Based on these results, the city has implemented legal guidelines regarding disaster risk management and launched efforts to support the private sector to fulfill them. As a consequence, more than 50% of all employers enhanced their storage facilities for water and emergency foodstuffs. This allows people to stay at their work place even overnight in case of an emergency and to wait until the transport system works again before trying to return home.

The city government provides financial support to the private sector to fulfil these guidelines. The additional expenses for public buildings and institutions is covered either directly or indirectly by the authorities. Nevertheless, financial contribution from the private sector is necessary to put the measures in place.

The number of temporary shelters available in the city has increased significantly, more than 10,000 support stations have been established in schools, convenience stores and other places to assist people on their way home in an emergency.

A realistic “project evaluation” will unfortunately be the next earthquake to hit Tokyo. Due to its location there is a high probability that this will happen within the next decade.

In order to improve the preparedness of public institutions and businesses for emergency situations, including citizens having  to remain in the city for extra hours or overnight due to the transport system being unable to operate, all stakeholders must be mobilized. The measures are only successful if the majority of the city’s businesses and public buildings invest in the storage of emergency supplies. These efforts cannot be achieved by the city government alone, it requires the engagement and contribution of the private sector and citizens.

The City of Tokyo distaster measures demonstrates how cities can learn  from previous emergency situations and can further increase resilience by improving preparedness for earthquakes and their consequences and this can be replicated in other cities that face the same challenges from natural disasters.

- UCLG Peer-Learning Note no. 24, Local and Regional Disaster Risk Reduction: 

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