YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. Forces Japan will play an active role in the Tokyo metropolitan government’s sixth annual earthquake disaster-prevention drill Friday, a shift from previous years when U.S. installations were used only as staging areas.

The 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. exercise is to be held at sites including Yokota and Hardy Barracks in Tokyo. A Navy ship and U.S. servicemembers are to participate in the drill for the first time, while a South Korean rescue team is to work with the Tokyo Fire Department.

“We see this drill as a great opportunity to … test internal processes and response plans,” Capt. Jason Medina, a USFJ spokesman, said Friday. “Participating also proves how the U.S. military’s relationship with the Japanese government goes beyond national defense.”

The annual drill coincides with the anniversary of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, a massive 8.3-magnitude temblor that killed more than 140,000 people, left hundreds of thousands homeless and devastated Tokyo and its outlying communities.

Under this year’s scenario, a strong “earthquake” will strike at about 7:15 a.m. Friday, disabling Tokyo transportation networks.

Medina said the USS Gary is to ferry about 30 stranded local residents from Harumi Pier on Tokyo Bay to Yokosuka in Kanagawa prefecture, while a UH-60 Black Hawk crew from Camp Zama is to transport medical supplies from Yokota to Hardy Barracks.

Hardy Barracks also will be used to relay “casualties,” said Minoru Kogure, a General Affairs bureau spokesman.

At Yokota, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara again will observe the exercise beside Col. Scott Goodwin, the 374th Airlift Wing commander, said Capt. Warren Comer, a base spokesman.

“We offer support … by providing a staging area,” Comer said. “JASDF planes and TMG Fire Department helicopters will use our airfield services for landing and taxiing of aircraft.”

Kogure said about 56,000 people from government agencies, companies, schools, self-defense forces and Japan’s coast guard are taking part in the drill, to take place mainly in Adachi-ward in northeastern Tokyo.

A fresh wrinkle this year deals with how to return workers and students who commute into Tokyo to their homes, Kogure said.

“One of the challenges during disaster is how to return those people back safely to surrounding areas since there will be affected areas on the way,” he said.

That’s a major reason Tokyo sought USFJ involvement, Kogure said: USFJ “has large facilities and ships and we should include them when thinking about disaster measures.”

USFJ has a solid record of helping during natural disasters and other emergencies, Medina said. U.S. servicemembers delivered 18,000 pounds of supplies from Yokota to Japanese response teams after the 2004 Niigata Prefecture earthquake.

The U.S. military sent almost 5,000 tons of goods and treated more than 2,200 patients after the devastating tsunami that December, which killed more than 220,000 people.

“These types of exercises,” Medina said, “can help ensure better coordination during real-world catastrophes.”

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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