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Activity Reports

Onwards Dani-busters! The evacuation center cleaning team

September 2, 2011

Today’s report is about one of the evacuation center cleaning teams known as “Dani-busters”! Dani is the Japanese word for bed bugs.

The Dani-buster team been working since June, and as the name suggests, is in charge of removing bed bugs in the more than 60 evacuation centers in Ishinomaki area. The team has developed significantly in the two months since it began, achieving standards qualified by cleaning professionals.

The Dani-buster team was created because of reports received from municipal authorities and the Red Cross at the beginning of June, when the rainy season started, that the appearance of bed bugs and mold were a hygiene concern in the evacuation centers. In response to this, the Ishinomaki Disaster Recovery Assistance Council Inc. (IDRAC) (of which Peace Boat is a member) and several other organizations established teams to combat this issue. Members gathered from specialist groups providing medical assistance and organizations researching needs in the evacuation centers, overcoming organisational barriers for the common goal.

The medical team first led the operations and set about creating inspection checklists to assess the situation in evacuation centers. Each evacuation center was visited and these checklists were used to conduct interview surveys to assess the environment at each evacuation center.

Following this, evacuation centers were prioritised according to the condition of each center. The Dani-buster team commenced working on June 13, approximately two weeks after its creation. The main activities of Dani-busters include futon drying, cleaning of evacuation centers to prevent the appearance of bed bugs, and delivery of futons and exchange of new futons.

Let’s take a look at the team at work.

Once the volunteer team arrives at an evacuation center, they go through an outline of the work to be done. Even though the work is being done at places called “evacuation centers,” it is important to remember that these centers are peoples’ homes. Volunteers are given thorough instructions on how to go about their work without offending anyone or making them feel uncomfortable.

Each evacuation center is contacted in advance and permission to conduct cleaning work is obtained before the volunteer team visits the center.

After greeting the evacuation center residents, the volunteers are given instructions and they set to work quickly.

There are two main kinds of work to be done – collection of futons and cleaning. Teams confirm in advance whether or not cleaning is required. For the homes that require cleaning, residents are asked to pack away any small items. The cleaning team carefully moves these boxes of personal items before commencing cleaning.

The sheets on the floor are cleaned thoroughly with medical alcohol spray, chlorine spray and medical alcohol wipes.

This is how areas in which people are living everyday are cleaned thoroughly; however the required cleaning work differs for each evacuation center. Depending on the conditions, sometimes the individual private areas of residents are cleaned, and sometimes just the communal areas of the center.

Where only the communal areas need cleaning, the team focuses on areas that residents are unable to clean by themselves. One of the strengths of the Dani-busters is that they can adapt their work to suit the needs of each center, while team leaders use their experience to make judgments. Each evacuation center has a different atmosphere and the way in which each situation is dealt with depends on that situation. Based on their experience, the team leaders have become able to make judgments that each situation needs to be dealt with differently by making a proper assessment of the situation. If it is not the right time for the team to come in and work then it’s important for leaders to be able to decide to postpone the cleaning if necessary.

Next let’s take a look at the collection of futons.
First of all, all of the futons are collected. In order to make sure the futons don’t get mixed up, each person is asked to label their futon with their name.
The futons are collected and placed on top of a vinyl sheet that has been disinfected with alcohol.

Then, each futon is unfolded and cleaned of any dust with a vacuum cleaner.

After each futon is vacuumed, they are sprayed with bed bug spray. Now the first stage of cleaning the futons is complete.
This process is repeated for all blankets as well, one by one. As this process is completed for each futon or blanket, they are then each placed on top of a vinyl sheet that is disinfected with alcohol. If a futon is particularly dirty at this stage, it is exchanged for a new futon.

The futons that have passed through the first stage of cleaning and disinfection are taken outside. Here, the next step in cleaning takes place – ensuring that the procedure goes beyond just hand-cleaning with vacuums and disinfectant spray.

This is the secret weapon! While it is most likely only obvious to those who have volunteered with the Dani-busters team in Ishinomaki, this is actually a futon-drying truck!

When Dani-busters initially started work, they were using domestic futon dryers (many people have these in their homes in Japan to dry their futons). However, there was limited time and they were very inefficient in evacuation centers with lots of people. It was also difficult to arrange enough power supply outlets.

Everyone put their heads together and this is what they came up with. A 4-ton aluminium truck is being used as a large futon dryer.

At the rear of the truck on the tray is a “jet heater,” a machine used in factories and construction sites in winter for heating. It is being used to distribute warm air into the truck.

Inside the truck, the walls are covered with insulation sheets to prevent heat from escaping. There are poles in the upper part of the truck and these are used to hang futons on to dry. Approximately 30 futons can be dried at the same time in this futon drying truck. The temperature inside is about 70 degrees celsius. The futons that are dried here are vacuumed once more to remove any bed bugs that have died before being returned to their owners.

While it depends on the temperature and humidity at the time, often futons are twice as big when returned as when they were collected, nice and fluffy.

Two futon drying trucks have been built, and they are taken to two separate places to dry futons at the same time. Ever since these trucks were introduced at the end of June, the efficiency of work has increased significantly and the Dani busters team were able to complete one round of visiting all of the 42 evacuation centers in Ishinomaki by the end of July. In the beginning of August the team traveled to nearby Onagawa to conduct some cleaning work. Now the team is on its second round of visiting the evacuation centers in Ishinomaki, aiming to finish this within September.

While the futons are drying, other cleaning work progresses rapidly. As the team prepared to take a break, the residents of the evacuation center offered them tea and everyone took a break together.

This is actually the second time that Dani-busters had visited this evacuation center and the residents welcomed the team back warmly. The following pictures are of volunteers interacting with the residents. The man making a peace sign in the photo above said to me as I took photographs, “You look like someone I know. You seem really familiar” and then gave me a fish-sausage snack and some tea. I got lucky because I looked like someone he knew – thank you for the snack!

Everyone enjoying time together.

Of course, it is not like this at every evacuation center. However, as the residents live in evacuation centers longer and longer, there is less coverage of the current situation in the disaster-affected areas. By having contact with the disaster victims through cleaning work like this, Dani-busters may have a positive influence in the evacuation centers which extends beyond cleaning.

Phrases like “emotional support” and “standing by those affected” can be used. Of course, the volunteers are not professionals in that area, and cannot do anything that requires specialized knowledge or reach out to people on a deep emotional level. However, it is certainly meaningful to interact with the disaster survivors by talking with them or sometimes being able to say “Let me help you!” and working together,

We hope that volunteers can appreciate these special times but at the same time, continue working so that all of the survivors living in evacuation centers can regain their lifestyles, and that each evacuation center will reach the stage of having a closing ceremony – a joyous event.

The last photograph is of the two team leaders who have been behind the Dani-busters team since it was formed, Endo Satoshi (left) and Oshio Sayaka (right). Both of them have been volunteering since before Golden Week (a holiday week in Japan in April/May). If it wasn’t for them then Dani-busters would not exist as it does today. Thank you for all your hard work so far and from here on as well!

ALL PHOTOS BY © Ueno Yoshinori