Japan to develop stadium evacuation app for use during natural disasters or terror attacks

An official of the Japan Sports Council looking at a model of the new National Stadium which is under construction in Tokyo. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Japanese government will start developing an evacuation guidance app for mobile phones, tablets and other devices next fiscal year.

The new app will automatically show users evacuation routes to help spectators at large stadium evacuate without getting lost in the case of natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

As many foreigners will visit Japan for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the government plans to have the new app cover about 50 venues for these events and be available in multiple languages.

The government intends to include relevant costs for things such as feasibility tests in the fiscal 2017 supplementary budget.

Users would download the app in advance and choose their desired language. Should a disaster occur, the app would receive a signal to activate and guide spectators from their current location to somewhere safer, such as outside the stadium, by displaying maps and providing audio guidance. For wheelchair users, the app will be equipped with a function to introduce evacuation routes that do not involve stairs.

The government will facilitate use of the app by having event organisers introduce it when they e-mail information about sporting events and other issues to ticket holders.

In fiscal 2018, the government will select one or two locations from the venues for the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics and Paralympics to start a feasibility test for wheelchair users jointly with the private sector. It aims to put the app into practical use by September 2019 when the Rugby World Cup starts.

In the feasibility test, internet-connected digital signage to show images and videos will be installed at stadia, and disaster information and evacuation routes will be displayed in texts or pictures, as well as in multiple languages such as English and Chinese.

The government will also consider making it even more convenient to view the events by giving the app functions such as allowing users to check the congestion of parking lots and to buy items at stalls without paying in cash.

Sport stadia are often targeted by terrorists as soft targets - places where numerous, unspecified people gather. If an incident, an accident or a disaster occurs at such places, confusion is expected as spectators will rush to the exits.

Measures for evacuation guidance in case of disasters are often left up to the operators of respective facilities. Therefore, they may not be able to smoothly provide evacuation information at international events visited by spectators from home and abroad.

"To help each individual spectator evacuate, an app would be best," said a senior official of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry in charge of developing the app.

In addition, in case of large-scale disasters, visiting foreigners are expected to be taken to the hospital by ambulance or forced to take refuge for prolonged periods.

To strengthen measures to deal with foreigners ahead of the Games, the government is putting efforts into the development of automatic speech translation technology. Combined with the envisaged app, the government hopes to show the world its capability in preparing for unexpected situations.

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