TOKYO -- A smartphone app that provides immediate earthquake, tsunami and torrential rain warnings among other material was released by a Tokyo-based IT firm on Sept. 1 with the aim to raise users' information literacy during disasters.
The disaster prevention app, "Tokumu Kikan NERV Bosai Apuri," was released by Gehirn Inc., run by 29-year-old Daiki Ishimori. Ishimori's family home in the Miyagi Prefecture city of Ishinomaki was completely destroyed in the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Although Gehirn operates a Twitter account that offers information relating to disaster prevention, it decided that an app would provide immediate information focusing on areas where users reside, enabling them to quickly evaluate the situation and evacuate.
The app was named after a special organization called NERV that appears in the popular anime series "Neon Genesis Evangelion," which tells the story of the battle between humans and alien beings called Angels. Warnings of Angel invasions are issued by NERV.
Ishimori, a fan of the anime series, set up a Twitter account in February 2010 and named it after the organization, hoping "to enjoy the worldview of Evangelion." However, immediately after he began to use this account to tweet information on disaster prevention, a megathrust quake struck the Tohoku region, northeast of Tokyo.
The Evangelion fan lives in the capital and had a hard time getting in touch with his family, stewing over the situation until he confirmed their safety. Conflicting disaster-related news, such as information on planned power outages, also emerged in Tokyo. He called for people to save electricity, which he says received a great response online.
Ishimori posted all the earthquake warnings he noticed, including those issued in the middle of the night, but in November 2011 he installed a program that automatically tweets earthquake early warnings issued by the Japan Meteorological Agency. As he increased the amount of information provided through the account, such as evacuation information issued by local bodies, he garnered more followers -- currently at about 750,000.
Though the Twitter account provides information on disaster prevention across the nation, the app lets users register where they and their family members are currently located. The app then automatically sends notification of disaster-related information in the concerned areas once users turn on the notification. Even when the phone is set to vibrate, notification sounds are set to play for information marked with high urgency.
Ishimori committed to universal design, as he himself feels that a white background makes it difficult to read red and yellow letters due to its brightness. For this reason, he chose black as the app's background color, so letters shown in red and yellow that indicate the level of danger, would stand out. The app is also equipped with screen reader functionality for users with visual and reading disabilities.
Hoping that users "will not depend so much on the app that they stop thinking," Ishimori made the phrase, "Make your own decision and take action," appear on screens when NERV is launched for the first time.
Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, the waves were much larger than what was predicted in the major tsunami warning. Many who did not evacuate thinking that a mere 3-meter wave would not do much damage became victims of the tsunami.
Ishimori stated, "Some people are saved by information, but there's also a danger that it can take their lives. We need people who receive information to improve their information literacy, and on top of that we hope to convey information that is easy to understand and see."
Gehirn, based in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, has obtained permission from the Neon Genesis Evangelion copyright owners to use contents from the popular anime. Users can download the app for free at https://nerv.app/ (in Japanese).
(Japanese original by Ikuko Ando, City News Department)