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Disaster alert app to become available in 11 languages

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe government plans to increase the number of available languages for its app that warns of earthquakes, tsunami and other disasters from the current four to 11 as early as fiscal 2019, in light of its initiative to accept more foreign workers from April.

It will also improve local governments’ radio communication system for disaster administration whereby the contents of the alert can be determined based on different sounds.

Foreigners living in Japan tend to be at a disadvantage in natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons because of the language barrier. During Typhoon No. 21 last September, many foreigners were stranded at Kansai Airport due to a lack of communication, and it became a serious problem.

The Tourism Agency has offered a smartphone app called Safety tips since 2014, sending notifications of natural disasters, including earthquake early warnings and tsunami warnings, as well as civil protection information at the time of ballistic missile launches.

In addition to the currently available languages of English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese, the government aims to add languages spoken in Vietnam, the Philippines, Portugal, Nepal, Spain, Indonesia and Thailand, based on the fact that a large number of people speaking these languages currently live in Japan.

The government will add further information disseminated by local governments, such as evacuation orders and instructions, keeping in mind foreigners residing in rural areas.

The agency is encouraging foreign visitors to download Safety tips. In reality, however, foreigners who visit Japan when there are no disasters are not using the app, according to a senior official at the agency. The agency is distributing flyers at airports and tourism information centers, urging foreigners to be ready.

On top of Safety tips, the government will improve the function of the radio communication system for disaster administration, which operates simultaneously with the national early warning system known as J-Alert. Instead of the current method of broadcasting a warning in Japanese, the new function can use different sounds to notify of different types of disasters, such as missile launches, earthquakes and heavy rain.

Meanwhile, the government will also set up “coordinators” who can provide necessary information in multiple languages and offer support at the time of a large-scale disaster. It has provided training to local government officials and others since the end of February with the aim of dispatching them primarily to prefectures and major cities in 2020.

The coordinators would visit evacuation centers at the time of a disaster to give explanations in foreign languages. They would also listen to the questions, worries and demands of foreign evacuees and pass them on to administrative agencies.Speech

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