The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on public engagement approaches to disaster preparedness for foreign residents: case of Tokyo Metropolitan Area, Japan

Bismark Adu Gyamfi, Rajib Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Purpose: Foreign residents in Japan are classified as one vulnerable group at risk of disasters. Therefore, various measures are in place to engage, educate and offer first-hand experiences of disaster countermeasures required to overcome systematic disaster preparedness problems. However, the need for Japan to prevent the spread and infection of COVID-19 has necessitated measures that prohibit public gatherings and other social activities. This study aims to look at how these arrangements have impacted public engagement approaches to disaster preparedness for foreign residents within the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. Design/methodology/approach: This study identifies local organizations and examines their methods of engagement that enhance the disaster preparedness of foreign residents in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. The activities are examined in the context of when there was no COVID-19 pandemic and the current state of the pandemic. A change in activities attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic is then extracted and explained through field surveys and interviews with the relevant organization. Findings: This study reveals that most disaster preparedness activities were best accomplished through in-person engagements. Nevertheless, online engagements have become the alternative option because of COVID-19 infection prevention. This change has widen the coverage of some activities but major setbacks include events cancelations and technical and technological challenges attributed to using online platforms. Research limitations/implications: This study did not examine the effectiveness of pre-COVID-19 pandemic engagement approaches and current changes attributed to the pandemic; many public engagement literatures acknowledge success to include the number of participants, the abilities of organizations to find ways to effectively and positively engage their stakeholders for meaningful partnerships, the number of clicks, access to a website and comments made online. Therefore, as organizations in this study have shown a glimpse of the above characteristics, there are indications of some level of effectiveness in their engagement approaches even amid a pandemic. Practical implications: To avoid such situations in the future, there is the need for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, local governments and associated organizations to develop public engagement approaches that are flexible to resist or cope with in-person, remote encounters, or sudden circumstances that could potentially derail planned activities. Social implications: The most effects attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic are the cancelation of many disaster drill exercises, community disaster walks, training of volunteers for foreign residents’ assistance and many hours of “Yasashii Nihongo” lesson. The cancelation of activities is a setback to the efforts of self-help and mutual aid campaigns by authorities to reduce the impacts of disasters. Originality/value: The spirit of inclusion has been an embodiment of disaster management approaches in Japan for years for which policy recognitions have been tagged along the dimensions of public aid, self-help and mutual aid. These are aimed at engaging the populace, especially foreign residents in disaster training and exercises, language study and other communal activities for disaster preparedness. However, to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there have been a series of restrictions on gathering and inter-personal public engagement activities in Japan. As foreigners are classified as the most vulnerable to disaster in Japan, it is important to understand how these restrictions will/are affecting the efforts of integration and disaster preparedness, which are a crucial part of the Government’s effort to reduce casualties and damage in the anticipated Nankai megathrust earthquake. Besides the results being useful for government interventions, it also adds to the knowledge of the repercussion of COVID-19 and how to plan for emergencies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022

Keywords

  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • Disaster preparedness
  • Local governance
  • Local organizations
  • Public engagement
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Building and Construction
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality

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