Heat, floods, quakes: Tokyo 2020 preparing for any disaster

TOKYO (AFP) – Cyberattacks, terrorism, earthquakes and heatwaves: Tokyo 2020 organisers are hoping for the best but bracing for the worst and making contingency plans for several possible catastrophes during the Games.

Clean, virtually crime-free Tokyo has been spared the terror attacks that have hit many Western cities in recent years, and is considered a relatively safe bet for the Games – it is often ranked as low-risk by insurance and risk-management firms.

But that security goes out of the window when it comes to hosting the Greatest Show on Earth, says Shiro Kawamoto, counter-terrorism expert and professor of risk management at Nihon University.

“Tokyo’s safeness in normal times cannot be taken for granted during the Olympics when the world’s attention is on it,” Kawamoto told AFP.

So Tokyo is pulling out all the technological stops to bolster safety – for example, in an Olympic first, introducing a facial recognition system for volunteers.

Organisers are also bracing for a cyberattack similar to that which blighted the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opening ceremony, where Internet and wifi access were brought down.

“We are preparing on the assumption there will be a cyberattack,” said Kenji Endo, a senior government official in charge of Tokyo 2020.

The government has set up an elite unit of police and defence ministry experts to counter a possible cyber threat.

For terrorist attacks, Tokyo has not experienced a large-scale atrocity since the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult released Sarin gas on the subway in 1995, killing 13 people and injuring dozens more. But an attack on New Year’s Eve – where a man deliberately rammed a car up one of Tokyo’s best-known streets and injured nine people – jolted Tokyo out of its complacency.

Counter-terrorism drills are being conducted regularly and officials are urging the public to be vigilant. With petty crime much lower than in other major capitals, people generally pay little attention to abandoned baggage, for example.

“To avoid a suspicious object in a train suddenly exploding, someone has to spot it and call police or station staff,” Kawamoto said.

The ever-present threat of natural disasters is also keeping Olympics officials up at night, with Tokyo being one of the world’s most seismically active capitals and Japan battered last year by typhoons and heatwaves.