SAPPORO -- The Sapporo Assistance for Foreigners in Emergencies (SAFE) group has been established in the capital of Japan's northernmost prefecture to support foreign victims in times of disasters.
Eighteen SAFE members, who can communicate in a total of nine languages including English, Vietnamese and Indonesian, will send out disaster information through their own social media accounts.
SAFE members patrol evacuation centers to provide interpretation and consultation services to victims, and distribute disaster prevention information to foreigners in normal times.
The city of Sapporo, which experienced its first blackout after a 2018 earthquake in the eastern Iburi region of Hokkaido, has been facing issues such as foreign tourists being unable to obtain evacuation information and insufficient foreign language support at evacuation centers. In response, the city devised SAFE and started recruiting people in fiscal 2019. Members have learned how to respond to the situation in the case of a disaster through a total of three training sessions and the city's comprehensive disaster drills.
SAFE members paid a courtesy visit to Sapporo Mayor Katsuhiro Akimoto to mark the launch of the team. The mayor encouraged them, saying, "In the event of a disaster, I would like you to provide information to victims. I would also like you to play a role like a bridge so that foreign victims can let us know what kind of problems they are facing."
One of the members, Yanti Hendriyanti, 46, an Indonesian language instructor, who has lived in Sapporo for 18 years, recalled the 2018 earthquake and said, "I was a guide for tourists from Indonesia (at that time), but I couldn't charge my cell phone and information was confusing.
"I would like to call on people to prepare disaster prevention goods on a daily basis so that we can immediately convey correct information when a natural disaster actually occurs," she continued.
(Japanese original by Nozomi Genma, Hokkaido News Department)