SAGAMIHARA CITY, Japan – An annual joint disaster drill held here Sept. 1 saw U.S. Army first responders teaming with their counterparts from several neighboring cities and prefectures to tackle a series of emergency scenarios.
The 44th Joint Disaster Drill of Nine Cities and Prefectures included participation from U.S. Army Garrison Japan’s Directorate of Emergency Services and the U.S. Army Aviation Battalion Japan, and was held on a joint-use area near the Army’s Sagami General Depot.
The participants conducted 13 different drills, including a lifeline restoration drill, a rescue drill featuring local citizens as role-players, a firefighting and rescue drill featuring the USAG Japan DES team, and an aircraft rescue drill featuring USAABJ.
This year’s drill was held on the 100th anniversary of the so-called Great Kanto Earthquake, which struck Japan Sept. 1, 1923 and killed more than 100,000 people. The Japanese government later designated the day as “Disaster Prevention Day.”
Sagamihara City Vice Mayor Asana Ohkawa said the city hosted this year’s drill to raise awareness of the importance of disaster prevention and to strengthen the cooperation between approximately 140 agencies and organizations that are regularly involved in that effort.
“I think today’s drill was important,” Ohkawa said. “Training together will help ensure the prompt and smooth implementation of emergency disaster response measures in cooperation and collaboration with disaster prevention agencies in the event of a large-scale earthquake disaster.”
The DES and USAABJ teams faced a scenario in which they former had to rescue people from a collapsed building and transport them to established first-aid stations and the latter had to transport those who were severely wounded or sick from the training site to the U.S. Navy’s nearby Naval Air Facility Atsugi.
It can sometimes be challenging to coordinate joint training with other organizations and agencies because of things like planning and scheduling conflicts, one DES participant said, which is why events like the Sagamihara City drill are so valuable because they help to fill in training gaps and prepare all the first responders to be more ready in the event of a disaster.
Col. Marcus Hunter, commander of USAG Japan, observed the drill and spoke during the closing ceremony following remarks from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The colonel said he was very impressed seeing all the first responders being able to come together and work in a coordinated and synchronized fashion.
“The most important thing [about this drill] is to bring all the training that you do for tactical tasks ... together and work in a collaborative fashion to form the team and ... be able to communicate between all the different units and all the different teams so that, collectively, we are successful,” Hunter said.
The Sagamihara City vice mayor agreed on the importance of having all the different agencies working in concert with each other.
“Both the citizens of Sagamihara and the U.S. Army in Japan community live and work in this city; therefore, we will definitely need to work together in times of disaster,” Ohkawa said. “It is also important to build friendly relationships between both communities on a daily basis as well as preparing for a disaster together.”