Connectivity, news and social media become crucial lifelines in Japan’s quake-hit areas

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By Shusuke Murai

TOKYO: With lessons learned from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, mobile phone carriers and media organizations rallied Friday to offer crucial communications services to victims of the Kumamoto quake.

In a first, three major mobile phone providers – NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Corp. – said they had activated emergency public wi-fi hotspots in Kumamoto Prefecture.

The wi-fi access point is named “00000JAPAN” and is available free of charge regardless of a person’s existing phone carrier.


The idea initially came from the plight of people affected by the Tohoku earthquake in 2011, said Shigeru Morioka of Wireless Lan Business Promotion Association, a liaison group that organized the service.

“At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, some people complained they couldn’t connect to the internet because base stations of phone carriers they were contracted to had collapsed,” Morioka said. “By using wi-fi, anyone can access the internet no matter who they have a contract with.”

Media organizations also offered live streaming of their coverage to people in affected areas.

NHK started emergency online live streaming of NHK news on Thursday for people who do not have access to TV. NHK World also posted English live video updates on its website.

TV Asahi also streamed its quake coverage live for several hours via its YouTube channel.

To help victims call family and friends to confirm their safety, popular messaging app Line offered a free service to allow app users to call any number, named Line Out, for a domestic call of up to 10 minutes.

However, since the service might jam up cell phone lines, Line Corp. urged people to use it only in urgent situations.

Meanwhile, the Japan Tourism Agency has provided foreign tourists caught up in the earthquake with safety tips and helpful links on its English website.

In line with recent natural disasters, crucial information was also posted on official social media accounts, while survivors tweeted to show that they were safe.

Moreover, posts of people in the disaster-hit area proved to be informative thanks to the latest smartphone apps that allow users to stream live videos to the world.

Using an iPhone and live stream app Periscope, Noel Vincent, a 25-year-old English teacher who lives in Kumamoto, broadcast early scenes of post-quake Kumamoto and fielded questions from viewers.

“There were a lot of people logging in from South America, the United States, Japan – both expats and Japanese citizens – and a very diverse group of people were watching my stream,” Vincent said. His live streaming Thursday was viewed by more than 3,000 users.

“This isn’t surprising but the number one question (from viewers) was ‘Are you OK?’ or ‘Daijoubu?’ I did get a lot of comments suggesting that I should go inside, or I should (take) cover under a desk, mainly from Japanese viewers,” he said. “It seems like people’s perception on ‘earthquake preparedness’ varies a lot depending on where they are from.”

Vincent said he used the app for the first time to report what was happening at the disaster site.

“It was very interesting because I was downtown and a lot of people had been out drinking and were intoxicated,” he said. “But at the same time it was a lot of other people flooding the streets that were nervous, scared, uncertain and didn’t know what to do.” TNS

TNS/BF

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