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Published on November 26th, 2012 | by EJC


Disaster-related Mobile Apps From Japan

While most reports indicate that television and radio were the most useful media during last year’s Japan earthquake and tsunami, mobile devices were also effectively used by those caught in metropolitan areas. Although phone lines were jammed, people could still use WiFi networks to communicate with loved ones via Skype and Viber, get news updates through the news aggregation app like 5tabNEWS, listen to the national/local radio stations on, and watch broadcasters’ live coverage via Ustream and Niconico Live. The country’s three largest telecom companies SoftBank, au and NTT docomo also provided freely available (voice) messaging services, helping users to confirm the safety of their friends and family.

Here are some of the unique and freely available mobile apps from Japan that are useful before and during emergencies:

1) Yurekuru Call (Quake Early-warning App)
This iOS app sends an automated alert to the user before an earthquake hits their location. Using the Japan Meteorological Agency early warning system, the user receives a notification about the expected time and magnitude of the earthquake they will most likely experience. This app aims to help people prepare right before the quake hits, enabling them to take precautionary measures like shutting off gas valves or distancing themselves from glass windows. In addition to the quake alerts, the app lists 10 most recent earthquakes that struck the country. The service is available both in Japanese and English.


2) Moshiyure (Quake Simulation App)
Developed by the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention (NIED), this iPhone app simulates the effects of an earthquake greater than magnitude 6.0 at the user’s specific location. The purpose is to inform the user of the probability that a large-scale earthquake will hit the site within the next 30 years, and what type of effects can be expected. The app uses multiple APIs, from the Google Elevation API to those made available by the Japan Seismic Hazard Information Station (J-SHIS) including subsurface ground data. Available in Japanese and English.


3) AR Hazard Scope (Augmented Reality for Hazard App)
Similar to Moshiyure is the AR Hazard Scope, which uses GPS enabled augmented reality to visualise useful information such as the expected height of floods, the degree of fire risk and evacuation facilities in the 23 wards of Tokyo. Through the camera on their smartphones, the user can safely evacuate by looking at which streets and buildings are safe and which require more attention during natural disasters.


4) Japan AED Map (AED Location App)
This iOS app allows a user to find the nearest automated external defibrillator (AED) on a map. An AED is an easy-to-use electronic device that diagnoses potentially life threatening cardiac emergencies. In Japan, the device can be found in various places including public facilities and private companies. With help from users locating AEDs across the country, this app can help people revive to someone suffering a cardiac arrest. A similar app can be found in other places of the world including the Netherlands.


5) Disaster Information & Evacuation Guide (Evacuation Location App)
While you may be aware of the evacuation centres of your city, you would likely be completely lost when travelling to other places. By using GPS, this app helps the user find the nearest shelters, medical facilities and even water supply on a map. The app mapped out over 118,000 evacuation centres throughout Japan. The app additionally provides official updates on weather, typhoon, earthquake, tsunami. volcanic activities from the Japan Weather Association, and incorporates the Yahoo! Japan’s API on electricity usage monitoring. This app is available also in English.


6) Apps related to the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
After the Fukushima meltdown, many in Japan began to worry about radiation and their proximity nuclear power plants. Safe Area Checker 2 is one of the most popular Android apps, allowing the user to check their distance from the Fukushima nuclear power plants, the direction of the wind as well as radiation levels.

Another iPhone app shows the radiation data released by the Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and the user can check the frequently updated data according to the prefectures, it also tells the user the estimated amount of x-ray equivalent to the radiation rate.

About the Author:

Rina Tsubaki leads and manages the Verification Handbook and Emergency Journalism initiatives at the European Journalism Centre in the Netherlands. Emergency Journalism brings together resources for media professionals reporting in and about volatile situations in the digital age, and she has frequently spoken on these topics at media events. Previously, she managed several projects focusing on the role of citizens in the changing media landscape, and in 2011 she was the lead contributor of the Internews Europe report on the role of communication during the March 2011 Japan earthquake. She has also contributed to Hokkaido Shimbun, a regional daily newspaper in Japan. 

 Photos: All photos from the developers’ sites (Google Play/iTunes)


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