Can the Olympics facilities withstand an earthquake?

Toyosu tsunami hazard sign
A tsunami hazard sign in Toyosu

A recent estimate by a  government panel in late 2013 reported that a magnitude-7 earthquake directly under Tokyo could destroy as many as 610,000 buildings in Tokyo and the neighbouring three prefectures. 70% of the affected buildings could be destroyed by fires that quickly spread through densely packed neighbourhoods.

Many of the Olympic events are centred around the islands in Tokyo Bay. While they may be spared from the risk of fire due to the open space, these man-made islands can suffer damage from liquefaction and are even at risk of being submerged by a tsunami. A working group from the Cabinet Office’s Disaster Management Group are requesting that urgent measures be taken to reduce the risk of any damage and to make sure that the Olympics can be held without disruption.

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The latest revision to earthquake-retrofitting laws and what it means for old apartments

What the latest revision aims to avoid – A collapsed building blocks the road after the 1995 Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe.

The revision to the law to promote earthquake-resistant repairs to buildings went into effect on November 25. This revision obligates the owners of large-scale buildings such as hotels and other institutions to undertake earthquake-resistant building inspections, of which the results will be made public. It also applies to buildings alongside designated major roads. In the event of a major earthquake, there is a risk that older, unsafe buildings could topple onto roads and block access for emergency service vehicles.

So what does this mean for apartments in ageing buildings?

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Earthquake insurance premiums to rise 15.5%

Earthquake insurance premiums on households are expected to rise by an average of 15.5% from July 2014. The reason for the increase is due to the growing risk of another major earthquake. Also, the insurance industry saw a surge in payouts following the Tohoku earthquake which has drained the reserve fund. 

The average annual premium on a concrete or steel-framed residence with 10 million Yen coverage in Tokyo would increase from 16,900 Yen to 20,200 Yen. In disaster-hit areas in Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures, premiums may rise by as much as 30%. Meanwhile, some areas such as Yamagata Prefecture may see premiums fall.

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Buildings in Minato-ku to be designated as tsunami-evacuation points

Selected buildings in Tokyo’s Minato ward will be soon be designated as tsunami-evacuation points. Negotiations are underway between the local city council and 16 companies who own buildings of 10-storeys or higher. Approximately 36.5 million Yen has been set aside in the City’s budget.

Several commercial and residential buildings in Arakawa-ku and Koto-ku have already received designations. While Arakawa-ku provided some assistance with the purchase of emergency supplies and rations, Minato-ku will provide all necessary supplies to the co-operating buildings. They are also considering providing assistance with any upgrades to building security so that they may be accessible to evacuees in an emergency situation.

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Voting rules may change to speed up earthquake-retrofitting

A building damaged in the 1995 Kobe earthquake.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) is considering bringing in relief measures that will reduce the number of votes needed by apartment owners when deciding on earthquake-retrofitting.

Currently, a majority vote is needed for small repairs, but if the building association wishes to carry out large-scale repairs which may include earthquake-retrofitting, at least 75% of apartment owners must agree to the repairs. Proposed changes by the MLIT would change this to a majority vote. 

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Residents told they are ‘on their own’ in a major earthquake

Residents of The Tokyo Towers – a 58-storey condominium complex in Chuo-ku’s Kachidoki bayside area – attended an information session on disaster preparedness held by the building’s management committee in October. Following the Tohoku earthquake, the committee have been looking at revising their disaster manual.

Mr. Motose, who is in charge of disaster management in the committee, informed residents that they may be without electricity and elevators in the event of a major earthquake, and should prepared to have enough supplies to last a month.

Residents were also told of possible ways the building could be affected in an earthquake. 

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No. of new earthquake insurance policies up 7.3%

According to the Non-Life Insurance Rating Organization of Japan (NLIRO), the number of new earthquake insurance policies in 2011 increased by 7.3% from the year before to 9,335,873 policies.

In addition, the number of contracts on residential properties in force at the end of the 2011 fiscal year had risen by 10.5% to 14,088,665. This is the highest growth rate seen since 1996 when it increased by 15.3%. In Fukushima Prefecture, the rate increased by 51.3%. Incidentally, Fukushima previously had a low proportion of property owners with earthquake insurance. Miyagi Prefecture had the second highest increase of 30.1%, and Iwate Prefecture was third with a 23.7% increase.

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