Saturday, July 09, 2011

Early Earthquake Warning [EEW] System Introduction

A long time ago I made mention that I would do a review of different apps you can use while in Japan for earthquake alerts and safety information, and after the recent 7.1 earthquake that hit just minutes ago, I figured now would be a decent time.

I clearly remember the first earthquake I ever experienced. It was about a month after I came to Japan. It was a sunny fall day and I was sitting in English class. It was a very, very weak one but I freaked. Everyone else just kept working and minding their own business but I was terrified. (I'm from Northeastern Pennsylvania - ie: No tectonic plates close enough for earthquakes)

Once a couple months had passed they had stopped being terrifying and just became an annoying part of everyday life. Sometimes they happened, sometimes they didn't. Towards the end of my exchange they started happening more frequently, but since most were during the time I was at school or the middle of the night, I never knew much about earthquakes or for that matter, earthquake alerts. At my last host family, we'd watch TV during dinner and my host brother would sometimes predict the earthquakes.(freaky, right?!) We also had a guard dog that would start barking sometimes 15 seconds before it happened! It was at my last host families that I saw the TV's earthquake alert for the first time!

Then the Tohoku Earthquake or Great East Japan Earthquake happened. While I wasn't in Japan when the earthquake happened (I was in an airplane, flying close to Sendai actually), I experienced many of the aftershocks. It was during this time I actually experienced what a early warning alert sounded like, many times a day!

About the 緊急地震速報 (きんきゅう・じしん・そくほう, Earthquake Early Warning system)
The Earthquake Early Warning system was launched in 2007 as part of the 全国瞬時警報システム(literally: all country-instant-warning system) or the J-Alert. The J-Alert system is a satellite system developed so authorities could quickly broadcast alerts for things such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, even military alerts. According to the wikipedia article, Japanese officials claim it takes 1 second to inform authorities and 4 to 20 seconds to inform citizens.

"The EEW system can detect the approximate source and magnitude of an earthquake and send out public alerts via TV, radio, and cellphone--all in less than a minute of a quake's start. It also transmits signals that can automatically shut down computers, stop elevators at the nearest floor, and halt factory production lines."[article] (Note: for more information on the differences between S-waves and P-waves, I'd recommend this article for that as well!)

緊急地震速報 for 携帯(けいたい, cell phones)
Probably the most handy part of the Earthquake Early Warning system is the message alerts that can be sent to cell phones. This article from Japan Angle has a good description: "What happens first is that your phone gets automatically “flashed” by the earthquake warning centre. An alert ring tone goes off (irrespective of whether you’ve set it to silent or not) and a message pops up on your screen telling you the approximate epicentre of the quake. There is then usually a number of seconds before the ground actually starts moving beneath you – the amount of time you get depends on how close you are to the epicentre. This is just enough time for you to open a door or window (to ensure an easy escape route) and duck under something sturdy (to protect yourself from falling objects)."
[source] Translation of the message sent. Messages are usually available in English also.
For Docomo users, here is the page with more information, including a list of compatible devices.
au by KDDI users are unlucky in that the page with information on the EEW system(including how to set it up) is only available in Japanese. More information may be available in your handset's user guide or through customer service.
Softbank on the other hand, doesn't have any information linked from their English website. However, after searching through their Japanese website, I came across this page.
However, on both Softbank [link] and au [link] 's English websites you can find information on the Disaster Message Board Service and how to sign up.

緊急地震速報アプリ(あぷり, application) for スマートフォン(すまーとふぉん, smart phones)
I think this part will be the most appealing to my readers. If you're simply traveling or planning to stay in Japan for any extended period of time, you're probably fairly concerned with safety. If you can't speak Japanese, this probably makes your anxiety even worse.

I want to make this clear: The number and strength of earthquakes has toned down a lot. And it is not unusual at all to experience an earthquake in Japan, as the tectonic plates Japan sits on are very active. I am only doing this to give you a little peace of mind and hopefully help those in the future.

I am going to rate these apps, to the best of my ability, based on the following things:
Ease of usage(from a non-Japanese perspective)
Features such as: GPS location, push-notifications, maps,

I will also list pros/cons of usage, best/worst feature, an over-all star rating, if it works world-wide or if it's limited to Japan, and if it there is both an Android and iPhone app. Please note I have an Android phone and can only review Android-based features.

I have four apps I am going to review, and I will also mention any other apps specifically for iPhone that I cannot review personally.

So be prepared for those in the immediate future. :]

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