Mar 31, 2004

Roppongi Hills Death Trap Spurs Police Raids

The facts, as understood at present:
6-year-old Ryo Mizokawa died last Friday after his head was crushed by an automatic revolving door at the Roppongi Hills residential and commercio-tainment complex in Tokyo. The 2.7-ton door, manufactured by a subsidiary of Sanwa Shutter Corp., was not equipped with a safety system to halt or release upon contact. Instead, it could rotate another 25 centimeters. Not only that, a safety sensor originally set to detect objects 80cm or taller was reset to ignore anything below 135cm following a December 7 accident. Roppongi Hills has had 32 revolving door accidents since last April (10 resulting in transfer to a hospital), but this was the first reported.

Confusion in the unfolding story:
Initial reports quoted Sanwa as stating the door only moves 5cm before stopping. At a press conference Saturday, Sanwa officials said they "did not develop a countermeasure for when a person becomes sandwiched and the door does not stop." Investigations at the time also concluded the sensor detects an object 80cm or taller.

Mori representatives, meanwhile, stated at a March 26 press conference that only 2 revolving door accidents had occurred since Roppongi Hill's opening. When the number was later corrected to 32, a Mori Building managing director explained the discrepancy, stating, "This is the first time we've put [those kind of statistics] together." According to the article, Mori asked Sanwa to reduce the sensor blind spots after the December accident involving a 6-year-old girl, but that Sanwa advised against this adjustment as it would lead to an increase in false alarms. The blind spots were increased instead.

Apparently not convinced by this hemming and hawing, police searched seven locations yesterday, including the headquarters of both Sanwa and Mori Building, in an unusually prompt effort to collect evidence of professional negligence.

I wouldn't usually say this, but "go, cops!" Fight the good fight. A safety-disabled 2.7-ton automatic door with gaping one-meter blind spots - in a family-oriented complex, no less - has got to be somebody's bad decision. (Not to mention striving conscientiously to cram every aspect of people's lives into Verdant, Vertical Cities composed of a few mega-highrises build on formerly "small, individually held lots of land." Minoru Mori has been given the virtual run of Tokyo.)

As a side note, the Bloomberg article cites a release on the Mori Building website in which President Minoru Mori "deeply apologizes" for the boy's death. This release has ceased to exist. The most recent English release is from November 2003, and last Japanese release is from March 10 of this year. The Sanwa and Roppongi Hills sites don't mention the incident, either. Typical evasive Japanese PR.


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