Pocket Shelter: The Disaster App That Just Might Save Your Life
The phrase “this app is a lifesaver” can be taken literally
Ensure the safety of you and your loved ones in the event of a disaster in Japan with this specially designed app.
Sometimes it’s easy to believe that, in our sophisticated high-tech society, we are immune to the dangers of natural disasters. Unfortunately, this is not true. In a country like Japan, earthquakes and other natural disasters are a fact of life. While technology cannot eliminate them, new products and services can do a lot to minimize risk. Pocket Shelter is just that: a disaster preparedness app that just might save your life.
As a self-confessed earthquake-phobe, I tried it out to see if it really has what it takes to keep us safe if the worst were to occur.
It features early earthquake warnings
An “Earthquake Early Warning” is a warning issued when an earthquake is detected by the Japan Meteorological Agency, along with guidelines on how to react. In the event of an early earthquake warning, you may have a few seconds up to several minutes to react after receiving the warning, which can be enough time to get away from dangerous areas or seek shelter.
Early Earthquake Warnings in Japanese are broadcast on TV, radio, and now should come automatically through to your smartphone. The trouble is, you don’t have any control of when or how those warnings are transmitted to you — which is particularly a problem if you don’t read Japanese.
A primary function of Pocket Shelter is to get warnings to you, in your own language, wherever you are. The warnings also contain vital information tailored to your location on the nearest earthquake resistant structures and shelters.
User-friendly disaster maps have offline capability
City wards usually publish information about the location of shelters in their areas but typically this is either in Japanese only or on a print out that you get when you first register, then file away never to see again. For those of us who are navigationally challenged or who don’t speak fluent Japanese, the advantages of an interactive, tailored system are obvious.
The clear and attractive map shows you the location of nearest shelters, earthquake resistant structures, evacuation centers, facilities and more to inform you when disaster strikes. Bringing your friends and family together and using the app to familiarize yourselves with the facilities nearest to your homes, schools and places of work is a wonderful exercise in preparedness and on Pocket Shelter it’s so easy to do.
Mobile networks are never their best post disaster so if you download the map for your region, it will be fully available offline. The app also doubles up as a Google maps-style navigation system.
It helps you let your loved ones know you’re safe
One thing that sets Pocket Shelter apart is its “Safety Confirmation” feature. In the event of a disaster, lines of communication often go down, sometimes for prolonged periods of time. On downloading the app, you are given the option to register up to ten email addresses of friends and family members. In the case of an earthquake of M5 or above, your safety status will be sent to your registered email addresses if you were within 150km of the epicenter. This works by observing whether you (or your phone) manage to move a minimum distance. These safety emails can be sent even if your phone goes offline after the disaster.
For those of us with family on the other side of the world, this feature is more than welcome.
Knowing that my family can be immediately notified that I’m OK is an enormous weight off my and their minds.
Pocket Shelter can also benefit families. If you have children old enough to own smartphones and be out and about in Tokyo by themselves, you can get them to download the app. With the option of including the phone’s latitude and longitude in the safety emails of the “Safety Confirmation” feature, the app has the potential to be a great resource to allow families to find each other in the wake of a disaster.
Easy to use and foreigner-friendly, Pocket Shelter is exactly the kind of app my anxious mind has been searching for. While there is no resource that can completely keep you safe from natural disasters, disaster preparedness is the best way to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Technology doesn’t quite allow me to bring an actual earthquake shelter around with me just yet, but it is a relief to know that, wherever I am, Pocket Shelter will help me if the worst happens.
There are three versions of the app available for iPhone and Android: “Basic,” “Basic Premium” and “Plus”. The “Basic” version, which does not include the offline map or “Safety Confirmation” feature, is free. Your best bet though is either the “Basic Premium”, which, for ¥120 per month allows you to store and download maps, as well as set up emails for your safety confirmation messages; or the “Plus” version, which costs ¥1,296 for one year and is enabled across multiple devices, including desktop.