A survey by the Japanese government’s Ministry of Education shows that just over 50% of the 149 schools in the prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima that were hit by last year’s tsunami, or expected to be hit, had evacuation plans. Many of the student deaths were the result of them being sent back to their homes immediately after the March 11th earthquake. Out of the 149 schools, only 75 had evacuation procedures; 131 schools were overrun by the tsunami waves.
The education ministry conducted the survey in January, and covered a total of 2,617 kindergarten, primary, junior, and high schools included in the three Tohoku region prefectures. Approximately 80% of the responding schools said they had disaster-prevention awareness programs, and 90% of those said that the programs were useful in their response to the earthquake disaster. Out of the primary schools that executed drills for evacuation, 11.4% of their students succumbed to fear and panicked, while at primary schools who had not practiced drills, 28.6% of their students panicked.
Out of 2,052 schools who had students present that day, when asked what their response was immediately after the earthquake, 79% handed the students over to their parents. 21% replied that they couldn’t accept the idea of sending the students home, and preferred to have them stay at the school. In the past, Iwate Prefecture’s board of education had advised that in disaster response situations, students should be given to their parents who can then take them home. In March, the board of education reversed its stance, and said that staff should have students stay at the school for safety. The city government of Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture, is evaluating the locations for evacuation sites, looking at the routes students use to go between home and school, as well the distance between the two.