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Central Japan fire departments introduce emergency report system for disabled people

A smartphone is seen displaying the website of the NET119 Emergency Report System at the Uonuma City Fire Department headquarters in Niigata Prefecture on Jan. 27, 2021. (Mainichi/Atsushi Arai)
A meeting for potential users of the NET119 Emergency Report System to exchange opinions is held at the Tokamachi Fire Department headquarters in Niigata Prefecture on Aug. 30, 2020. (Mainichi/Atsushi Arai)

NIIGATA -- The NET119 Emergency Report System for people with hearing and speaking disabilities has been introduced in some fire departments in the central Japan prefecture of Niigata. It enables people to make emergency reports via the internet using smartphones or other devices and their location information is instantly sent to fire stations, leading to quick dispatches.

    The system replaces conventional reporting methods for people with disabilities, such as email and facsimile, and has spread in various regions as the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications' Fire and Disaster Management Agency is promoting it to fire departments nationwide. According to the Niigata Prefectural Government, the system has been introduced in four municipalities in the prefecture -- Niigata, Uonuma, Tsubame and Yahiko.

    To make reports using NET119, people access its website, and select either "fire" or "emergency," and either "home" or "outdoors." Even if they are outdoors, the GPS enables fire stations to know their location. After a connection is established, the operator communicates with the user by text chat for more information.

    The Uonuma City Fire Department introduced the system in August 2020. NET119 is targeted at people who live in or commute to the city and have difficulties in making emergency calls because of hearing and speaking disabilities. Users need to register in advance but don't need a physical disability certificate. It's free to register and use the system, but internet fees are charged. As no one had registered since the fire department introduced the system half a year ago, it is calling on people to register through meetings of welfare workers and commissioners.

    Some other fire departments in the prefecture are also moving ahead to introduce NET119. In the city of Tokamachi and the town of Tsunan, which are covered by the Tokamachi Fire Department, some 280 people are targeted to use the system. While the fire department introduced an email and facsimile report system about 10 years ago, no one has ever used it, and the number of people registered for the email system has also been stagnating.

    The fire department held its first meeting for potential users to exchange opinions on the use of NET119 in August 2020. Comments from participants included, "Though I'd registered with the email system, when my family member collapsed I was panicking and couldn't type."

    The Tokamachi Fire Department is considering introducing the system from as early as fiscal 2021. "There is merit in people being able to make a report through smartphones even when they are outside," an official said. "We'd like to make preparations to introduce the system."

    (Japanese original by Atsushi Arai, Nagaoka Local Bureau)

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