Japan leveraging mobile to fix 'flawed' disaster alert system

New system will disseminate emergency information via mobile devices, cable TV and radio, to improve on flawed current J-Alert system and enable more citizens to receive updates in a timely manner.

Japan will implement a new disaster alert system to ensure the public can receive important emergency information on their cell phones and other channels.

According to The Daily Yomiuri on Monday, citing government officials, the planned system will enable mobile phones, cable TV connections and other devices to automatically receive emergency information, such as evacuation instructions from local governments and reports from the current disaster system, J-Alert.

This new system will also include flood alerts, radiation reports following a nuclear accident, as well as road conditions and the status of transportation systems. It may also add public information about shelters and other evacuation information after a certain period following a major disaster, officials added.

The current J-Alert system, functional since Feb. 2007, has been criticized as having many flaws especially in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami on Mar. 11 2011 , officials note. It currently sends emergency alerts to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, which then notifies relevant local governments via satellite.

Pilot trials already underway
Currently, the governments of two prefectures, Shizuoka and Hyogo, are part of a pilot program, the report noted.

Both local governments have formed agreements with mobile phone carriers and TV stations allowing them to send mass messages to the cell phones of residents in affected areas or display alerts on TV screens when necessary.

Using these pilot examples as models, the government is considering implementing a similar system for other prefectures so residents can directly receive J-Alerts and other emergency reports on their mobile devices or local cable TV and FM radio stations, the officials say.

The central government plans to offer financial assistance for implementation of the system to prefectural and municipal governments, to run the system by 2013, officials say. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has also included a request for 5 billion yen (US$62.6 million) for the project in the next fiscal year's budget.

Other countries too, are leveraging mobile devices to disseminate emergency information. China had in September, meterological authorities signed agreements with local telcos to send early warnings of weather conditions through text messages . In August, Israel also commenced a week-long test of an alert system that sends a text message to mobile phones located in areas likely to bit hit by missile strikes .