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Toward a society where no one-especially those most vulnerable-is left behind in a disaster: Leveraging NEC's technologies to develop a service accessible to those in need

Japan is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. The 2024 Noto Peninsula Earthquake, which struck on the first day of the year, was a stark reminder that natural disasters can wreak tremendous damage. To limit the loss of life in such disasters, how can we prevent disaster-vulnerable groups (i.e., the elderly, people with disabilities, and others who have difficulty evacuating on their own) from being left behind in a disaster? Japan's declining birthrate and aging population make this an even more pressing issue, and NEC is committed to doing everything in its power to ensure that no one gets left behind. NEC will begin offering the Evacuation Action Support Service, which harnesses the power of digital technology, in phases starting in February 2024. NEC's approach to this challenge is evolving as it receives feedback from users.

The evacuation of people requiring assistance during a disaster: Supporting coordination between municipal governments and residents through the power of ICT

"Hello? Are you able to move? Are you okay?" 
In a disaster prevention drill held in Toyonaka City near Osaka, one of Japan’s most populous cities, on January 20, 2024, NEC’s Evacuation Action Support Service was tested through actual use by local residents. In this trial run, NEC compared the use of a traditional printed list for safety confirmation of the elderly and others in need of assistance to that of digital safety confirmation using a smartphone app developed by NEC.

Some residents participating in the disaster prevention drill commented that keeping track of people using a paper-based system is impractical. Why are such drills conducted in the first place? In Japan, the Basic Act on Disaster Management was revised in 2021 to prevent people requiring assistance during a disaster from being left behind, making it mandatory to prepare individual evacuation plans for those who need such assistance. 

Most municipal governments in Japan still use paper-based systems when it comes to managing individual evacuation plans and lists of people requiring assistance during a disaster. However, as Yuma Bito of the Toyonaka City Welfare Department Community Coexistence Promotion Section told us, "We can only distribute paper-based lists to some of our community supporters, and there are issues when it comes to managing personal information using paper-based lists since they run the risk of getting lost." There are also various other issues to consider, including the burden of updating information and sharing it with those on the front lines and protecting personal information, leading some to question whether paper-based systems would be difficult to use in the actual event of a disaster.

Yuma Bito, who is in charge of the promotion of community as a member of the Toyonaka City Welfare Department Community Coexistence Promotion Section

This is what led NEC to develop the Evacuation Action Support Service. The service is comprised of two functions used to facilitate coordination between municipal governments and local communities: an Individual Evacuation Plan Creation Support Service for creating individual evacuation plans online during ordinary times and a Mutual Aid Evacuation Support Service that can be used to confirm the safety of those requiring assistance and consolidate evacuation status updates through communications apps such as LINE in the event of a disaster.

"NEC's mission is to take on the challenge of solving complex social issues": Co-creation based on user feedback

The evacuation of people requiring assistance during a disaster is an issue that extends across two separate domains—disaster prevention and public welfare. With multiple divisions involved in each municipality, the management of systems and information becomes complex, making the hurdles to introduction and operation high.

According to Hiroki Naoshima, Manager of NEC’s Domestic Smart City Sales Management Dept., which took the lead in the development and introduction of this service, “Taking on complex social issues is not only NEC’s mission but also what makes our efforts significant.” NEC already boasts a 40% share in the domestic market for systems in the disaster prevention domain, including firefighting command and disaster prevention radio systems.

Leveraging its proven track record, members of the NEC Group traveled to municipalities across Japan numerous times to directly meet with personnel from disaster prevention and welfare divisions as well as local residents. Naoshima and others participated in the disaster prevention drill held in Toyonaka City in January, asking participants from the community—including members of welfare committees and public and child welfare committees—to share their thoughts on the usability of the system and point out what they felt was difficult to understand.

Yasuko Sato, a member of the Welfare Committee of a District in Toyonaka City and a participant in the drill, expressed her opinion, saying “I think it will be easier to get young people involved if we go digital.” The reality, however, is that most of the residents who participated in this drill as supporters ranged in age from their 50s to 70s, and many of the supporters who would use the service are also elderly.

In a survey conducted after the drill, approximately 87% of participants responded that they would like to use this app in the event of a real disaster. Although some participants voiced concern over digitalization, many responded positively, saying, “I welcome such a service because it makes it possible to respond quickly,” and “It’s good that we can confirm the safety of residents at the same time as the representative who compiles information for the community.”

Takaaki Shirano, chairperson of the Welfare Committee of a School District in Toyonaka City, and someone who serves as a representative in times of disaster, also expressed his expectations for the service, saying, “The difference between this new service and our conventional paper-based method of management was like night and day. Since I am often away from home due to my work, I knew it could be challenging to distribute the list of names as a representative should there be an actual disaster. I think it will be incredibly beneficial to be able to share (lists of names and other information) digitally.”

Yasuko Sato
Secretary, Shoji School District Welfare Committee, Toyonaka City
Takaaki Shirano
Chairman, Shoji School District Welfare Committee, Toyonaka City

Inquiries from municipalities across Japan: Bringing safety and security to Japan and the rest of the world

Despite the fact that the Evacuation Action Support Service has yet to be launched, NEC has received countless inquiries from municipalities—some of which have already decided to introduce it.

NEC has also been fielding inquiries from outside Japan. Some believe the service is highly anticipated because it was created in Japan, a disaster-prone country with a declining birthrate and an aging population, and spans across the domains of public welfare and disaster prevention. The service will first be launched in the domestic market, but overseas deployment is also being considered. Naoshima strongly emphasizes his desire to "harness the power of NEC to create a society where no one is left behind in a disaster by promoting this service domestically and internationally."

Hiroki Naoshima, Manager, Domestic Smart City Sales & Marketing Department

While leaving no one behind in the event of a disaster is easier said than done, NEC is up to the challenge thanks to its expertise in the disaster prevention domain. By promoting solutions like the Evacuation Action Support Service, NEC is committed to fulfilling its Purpose of "creating the social values of safety, security, fairness and efficiency to promote a more sustainable world where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential."