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Emergency Preparedness for Americans in Japan

Before an emergency occurs there are a number of things that you can do to prepare:

Crisis Information is Practically Everywhere in Japan, “J-Alerts”

During your time in Japan, you may see alerts for events as diverse as heavy rain, excessive heat, landslides, tsunamis, earthquakes and civil protection.

The Japanese government uses a variety of avenues to reach people in affected regions. For example, during a Japanese television program, an alarm may chime, and an alert may scroll across the top of the screen for a minute or so. In some communities, loudspeakers outside may blast warnings as well. These are parts of the Japanese government’s “J-Alert” emergency broadcasting system that sends crisis information to the public. “J-Alert” even pushes messages to radios and cellphones. “J-Alert” can provide early warning emergency alerts on earthquakes predicted in a specific area, sometimes seconds before the earthquake hits. It also provides warnings about other threats such as missile launches.

The Japan Meteorological Agency, a primary source for many of the crisis alerts in Japan, has a webpage in English. Japan’s Cabinet Secretariat has a portal website with information on civil protection. If you can’t understand Japanese but are hearing or seeing emergency messages, pay attention and ask people around you what it means – it may be very helpful!

Japanese Government–Provided Emergency Information is Available Through Apps, in English

The Japan Tourism Organization has made available an android and iPhone app called “Safety tips” that “pushes” information alerts to users about disasters in multiple languages, including English! For more information about this app, check out the JNTO website and this press release. The NHK World app also provides Japanese government emergency alerts via “Push Notification” service in English. Both of these apps push “J-Alerts” in English to your cell phone.

Establish Your Personal Social Network – Get to Know People Around You

Whether you have been living in Japan one day or 1,000 days, many times the best information comes from people in your network of local and expatriate friends, acquaintances and business contacts. This is especially important if you are unable to read and speak Japanese. If you’re a tourist, your social network could be as simple as the front desk in your hotel or even the cashier at the local coffee shop!

Social Media Can Be a Supplemental Source of Useful Information

Social Media platforms like Twitter and Facebook can be useful platforms for timely updates. Visit the websites of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo or the U.S. Consulate near you to learn how to sign up for our official feeds. These can be helpful supplements to information sent through the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program – STEP.

Your Smartphone May Be a Vital Life Line

If you have a smartphone with a contract to a local Japanese mobile provider, you may already be able to receive safety alerts as a text message through your cell phone. Check with your local provider as this typically requires a unique email address associated with your mobile account. If you do have this capability through your provider, you may be able to also get this information in English.

Information on the Radio

Japan’s cellular network is very resilient, and can be expected to remain in service even after a major earthquake with minimal interruptions; however, if cell service isn’t available after a disaster, you can receive emergency information in English over local radio stations such as AFN (American Forces Network) or InterFM (English language news alerts). Some stations to monitor are:

  • AFN Tokyo (810kHz, AM)
  • AFN Iwakuni (1575kHz, AM)
  • AFN Sasebo (1575kHz, AM)
  • AFN Okinawa (89.1MHz, FM)

The Role of the Embassy

The Japanese Government will be responsible for assisting foreigners immediately after a major earthquake. Telephone services will be severely overloaded and the Japanese Government will restrict phone use to priority users. Nonetheless, the Embassy will quickly want to ascertain the welfare and whereabouts of American Citizens.

To aid in this process, American citizens should cooperate with Japanese authorities at evacuation sites and clearly identify themselves as Americans. Those connected with larger organizations such as companies, schools or church groups should try to let these organizations know of their welfare and whereabouts if this is practical.

The Embassy will be in touch with the Japanese Government and with larger umbrella organizations to attempt to identify as many American citizens as possible and determine their welfare. In the likely event that it is impossible to communicate by telephone or use motor vehicles, Embassy consular assistance teams are prepared to walk to major evacuation sites, international schools, hotels and so on and collect information about American citizens. The Embassy will help you get information about the situation and communicate with Japanese government officials if necessary in order to obtain proper food, shelter and medical attention.

We will pass as much information as possible about the welfare of individual U.S. citizens back to the Department of State in Washington, D.C. so that this information may be shared with your families, friends and employers.

Personal Preparedness Starts at Home

Once a disaster happens, it’s too late to prepare. Get your “Go Bag” together and work with your family to come up with a plan to communicate and find each other in the case of a crisis. Don’t forget about your pets when making plans! For ideas on how to stock your “Go Bag” or emergency kit, visit FEMA’s website. Tourists should visit the Department of State’s Traveler’s Checklist for ideas on how to have a safe trip.

Essential Supplies (Store enough for three to five days)

  • Water (four liters/one gallon per person per day. Change water every three to five months)
  • Food (canned or pre-cooked, requiring no heat or water. Consider special dietary needs, infants, the elderly, pets)
  • Flashlight with spare batteries and bulbs
  • Radio (battery operated with spare batteries)
  • Large plastic trash bags (for trash, waste, water protection, ground cloth, temporary blanket)
  • Hand soap and/or disinfecting hand cleaner gel that does not require water
  • Feminine hygiene supplies, infant supplies, toilet paper
  • Essential medications as required; glasses if you normally wear contacts
  • Paper plates, cups, plastic utensils, cooking foil and plastic wrap (wrapped around plates so that they were re-usable) and paper towels
  • First Aid kit with instructions
  • Yen in small bills (ATMs may not work after a disaster), with coins and phone cards for public phones.
  • Place emergency supplies and your telephone in places where they are less likely to be knocked over or buried by falling objects (on the floor under a strong table is a good choice).

Essential Home Preparations Before a Disaster

  • Secure water heaters, refrigerators and tall and heavy furniture to the walls to prevent falling.
  • Move heavy items to lower shelves, and install latches or other locking devices on cabinets.
  • Install flexible connections on gas appliances.
  • Remove or isolate flammable materials.
  • Move beds and children’s play areas away from heavy objects which may fall in an earthquake.
  • Sign up for the free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to register online with the Embassy or the Consulates; The emergency contact information is on the Embassy’s website.

Essential Planning Before a Disaster

  • Draw a floor plan of your home showing the location of exit windows and doors, utility cut off points, emergency supplies, food, tools, etc.Share it with baby-sitters and guests.
  • Establish family meeting points with alternate sites inside and outside of your home for all members to gather in the event of an evacuation.
  • Establish reunion sites with alternate sites for when the family is not at home, e.g., local shelter, neighbor’s house, park, school.
  • Designate a person outside of your immediate area for separated family members to call to report their location and condition if separated.
  • Learn or establish disaster policy/planning at your children’s school.
  • Know your neighbors and make them aware of the number of people living in your home.
  • Learn where the nearest designated shelter for your neighborhood is.
  • Photocopy passports and other important documents. Store copies away from home (for example, at work).
  • Learn how to contact the police, fire and rescue services in Japanese. Be able to provide your address in Japanese.

Essential Steps Immediately After a Disaster

  • Check your immediate surroundings for fire, gas leaks, broken glass and other hazards.
  • Open doors and/or windows to avoid being locked in if there are after-shocks.
  • Contact one friend or relative in the U.S., and ask them to inform other parties of your situation.
  • Monitor local TV and radio for evacuation information (If available in your area, for English info, listen to American Forces Network: AFN Tokyo-AM 810kHz, AFN Iwakuni-AM 1575kHz, AFN Sasebo-AM 1575kHz, AFN Okinawa-FM 89.1MHz).
  • Monitor NHK World news.

Safety Tips App

What are your biggest concerns about living in or traveling to Japan? Earthquakes? Public transportation? Language barriers? The “Safety tips” app launched by the Japan Tourism Agency can help you! Download it today and stay safe during your time in Japan.  Here is instruction how to install and use the app.