DoCoMo announced yesterday it was launching an i-mode Disaster Message Board service starting January 17 that will allow subscribers to post personal messages at a special i-mode site, an admission that DoCoMo’s overloaded PDC network will just not be able to cope with the flood of calls that will emerge when the Big One hits. “Should a major disaster occur,” says DoCoMo, “the network will undoubtedly be extremely busy as – in addition to the heavy traffic among administrative and relief agencies – ordinary users in the affected locale attempt outside contact to worried relatives and friends.”
Little more than a week after DoCoMo asked its 45 million subscribers NOT to use their mobile phones to make Happy New Year calls, the company is making some provision to enable its subscribers to communicate with each other if—or more probably when—a major earthquake occurs under one of Japan’s many major conurbations (or, possibly, Mount Fuji exploding, as it’s been hinting at doing) hits. No Kidding! DoCoMo can’t even cope with New Year..!!! Project launch is set for Jan 17. which coincides with the 8th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake that wrecked portions of Kobe and killed over 5,500 people and destroyed nearly half a million homes.
On the positive side, the announcement does show that DoCoMo is making some moves to address what WILL be a major issue here when a magnitude 7 or so earthquake hits the Sagami Bay area just west of Tokyo, or Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, etc.) in the west, or the Tohoku region in the north.
As at some point a BIG ONE will hit one of these regions.
Against international scientific opinion, the Japanese government and different science groups insist that with enough money, they’ll be able to start predicting earthquakes at some points. The fact is that no one really has more than a highly qualified scientific best guess about earthquake activity. A report by Japan’s Cabinet Office last year has sounded the alarm about the Tokai region west of Tokyo and rated the possibility of a huge earthquake hitting within the next few decades as high. The Tokyo Big one is also overdue. Tokyo suffers what has been a regular cycle of high magnitude quakes and the rule of thumb is that 70 years after the last major Tokyo quake, each decade that passes pushes the probability higher. On September 1, 1923, a magnitude 8.3 earthquake in Sagami Bay killed nearly 100,000.
At the top of this story, we hinted at the devastation wrecked in Kobe. While there were some terrible collapses, for example the main elevated highway designated as the emergency relief thoroughfare actually toppled, a tragedy of even worse proportions on the scale of the recent Iran earthquake, was largely averted by earthquake-resistant building regulations. (To qualify this point a little; few except some ignored local seismologists were expecting a magnitude 7 quake in the region, and the regional building code was a little less stringent than that in Tokyo).
But the Hanshin Earthquake also exposed serious holes in Japan’s emergency communications systems. Landlines were cut, satellite links broke, Kobe was effectively cut off from the rest of Japan for six vital hours and the government was forced to watch events on commercial TV as helicopters flew over the city and recorded the destruction of the Nagata district by fire.
Since then the Japanese government has launched a basket full of initiatives to ensure that emergency communications work—in depth. For example police and local government agencies are being equipped with battery operated personal VSATs to ensure that if everthing else is wrecked, they can communicate by voice and low data rates. The government even planned to employ Japan’s earth observation and spy satellites to take pictures to create disaster response maps, although this ability has been severely degraded since a H2-A rocket blew up a pair of spy satellites last December and Japan’s main Earth Observation satellite failed (like its predecessor) 9 months after launch.
Assuming that most of Japan’s post-1980 buildings do survive, base stations and infrastructure equipment will be shaken up and the network possibly reduced to a shambles. While there is little that DoCoMo can do about that, the message board could at least help cope with the flood of voice and packet calls that will follow. The Disaster Message Board is designed to bypass what will be a degraded and jammed network. DoCoMo press release Here.
– WWJ Editors