Earthquakes - 4. "Can we use telephones at disasters?" | Lectures for Foreign Students on Disaster Control | JPSS, the information site of studying in Japan

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"Can we use telephones at disasters?"

If we are struck by a large-scale disaster, naturally we would like to inform the family and friends of our safety as early as possible. On the contrary, when the family or friends are within a location of disaster we would be eager to confirm their safety. Hence, everyone uses their phones simultaneously both from outside and inside the affected areas during disasters at once, and it would become difficult to make contact by phones due to phone network congestion. One is likely to make calls many times until they would get through, but please avoid such an action because it makes phone network become beyond capacity to establish any connection.

Communication regulations by mobile phone companies can be expected so as not to get network tied up by being flooded with phone contacts. At the time of Niigata-ken Chuetsu Earthquake which took place in July 2007, the companies of NTTdocomo, and au regulated 80 to 90 percent of communication. This means that the probability of your call establishing a connection is one in five to one in ten. Also, if the power source at wireless base stations fail due to blackout caused a disaster, all the telecommunication service would be cut off.

Concerning the wireless base stations, however, it is said that they will be restored soon by equipping them with mobile generator sets. Ways of contact are secured as long as the base stations carry on operation.

Making use of the Disaster Message Board.

You can use the Disaster Message Board provided by your telecom provider at a disaster. It is a system for passing along text messages.

Message Registration from inside the stricken area.

  • 1-1. Dial the number of your mobile phone.
  • 1-2. You can post a message up to 100 double-byte or 200 single-byte characters.

Message Confirmation from outside of the stricken area.

  • 2-1. Enter the number of a person you want to know the condition of.
  • 2-2. the messages will be displayed.

It is good way to use the disaster message boards to make a contact, especially when you have difficulty making phones calls get through even though mobile phones can be fully usable(=when some antenna marks displayed on screen.)

Yet, you need to consult with your family or acquaintances beforehand about means of contact for making use of this message boards. Confirm in advance how to use the disaster message boards by mobile phones and by which telephone numbers do you make contact each other in an emergency.

For your information, mobile phone companies offer the trial service of the disaster message boards. Please check in on that.

Pay attention to the battery

During a disaster, please pay due attention not to run out of the battery of your mobile phone. Frequently making calls to try to get them through, or leaving your phone on the power even in a place with no signal will consume battery charge more quickly. Battery pack used more than one year will also be consumed quickly. The use of mobile phone should be kept to minimum and cut off at the outside of the service area so that battery charge will last as long as possible.

Mobile companies will offer free service of charging batteries at the time of disasters, but it is recommended to get extra battery packs by yourself and keep in a emergency kit. Better to be prepared with a hand-powered or solar-powered battery charger as well.


It is possible to make calls from public pay phones even at the time of power failure unless there wouldn't be any physical damages at phone lines or communication apparatus. You need to prepare some \10 coins beforehand.

According to NTT, public telephone can be newly set up or made free-of-charge if such measures are considered necessary at the time of disasters.

1. Temporary public telephones free of charge

Free-of-charge public telephones will be specially installed in the areas where The Disaster Relief Law was invoked or its equivalent ones.

2. Temporary public telephones

Temporary public pay phones will also be installed in the case when free-of-charge public telephones are not enough for the situations.

3. No-charge usage of lifeline public telephones

In order to avoid a situation where you cannot use public phones with telephone card due to power failures for a long period, existing public telephones can be made open to the public for free.

the Disaster Telephone Message Service(171)

NTT group activates the message board service at the time of disasters. It is available from home telephones (both a push-button type and dial-up one), public pay phones, and temporary public telephones specially installed by NTT at disasters. By this board you can record and play back voice messages.

Operating procedure is as follows.

Dial the number of "171," the Disaster Emergency Center.

Recording messages:

  • 1-1. Press "1" after the voice instruction.
  • 1-2. Dial your home telephone number (begin with the area code), and then you can record up to 30 seconds of audio per a message.

Playback message:

  • 2-1. Press "2" after the instruction message.
  • 2-2. Dial the number of a intended party (begin with the area code), and then you can play back the messages.

Yet again, you need to decide means of contact with your family or acquaintances beforehand for making use of this message boards. Messages on the boards are automatically deleted after 48 hours.

To add to, the disaster message board service cannot be accessed form overseas. In order to make contact with someone overseas, at first you need to get in touch with your acquaintances, workplace, or school located within the country but outside of the disaster affected area, and ask them to let overseas informed of your safety from there.

The service "web 171" available on the Internet can be of course accessed from overseas. English, Chinese (simplified) and Korean guidance is available. If you yourself and your family members have no trouble in the operation of web pages in Japanese, the service must be useful. Please confirm the details of the service at the website below.

Anyway, do not hesitate to try every means of contact and public services, not to mention telephones, e-mails, and Internet, and make the best of them in an emergency. It is significant to understand in advance what kind of contact methods are available (what kind of public services for contact are provided with.) Besides, among you and your family members, and your acquaintances, the ways of contact should be confirmed from now on. It must be no use if one left a message on the emergency message boards, but accessible period of 48 hours would expire before any one confirms it without knowing any message recorded there.

Please keep in your mind that it is difficult to make contact directly with someone overseas at the time of disasters. It is desirable to secure ways of contacting via some acquaintances.


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