Earthquakes - 6. "How can I help others at a disaster?" | Lectures for Foreign Students on Disaster Control | JPSS, the information site of studying in Japan

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"How can I help others at a disaster?"

At the time of a disaster such as an earthquake and on evacuation, what counts most is to obtain accurate information. Information concerning what the damage situation is, where to take refuge, and what is available at evacuation areas and shelters. Even Japanese people, who are used to and get prepared for earthquakes have difficulty getting solid information, and taking proper action with them. In foreigners' case, it is highly possible to fall behind people on evacuation, or to fail to get assisting service at evacuation areas when he is not sufficiently proficient in Japanese or does not get accustomed to the life in Japan. Besides, it is anticipated that you foreigners would be under a lot of stress if you are in stuck among people whom you cannot communicate easily. Furthermore, it must be more fear and uneasiness than could be imagined if you lack in basic knowledge of disasters.

Then, how can we assist foreign resident who are in need of help?

Local autonomous bodies and the international associations organize "Volunteer Interpreter" with the aim of assisting foreigners who have difficulty communicating in Japanese during large-scale disasters including earthquakes. Volunteer interpreters will be engaged in the activities such as:

  • 1-1. Interpretation for foreign sufferers at evacuation shelters or hospitals.
  • 1-2. Interpretation and translation at disaster headquarters or disaster information centers.
  • 1-3. To provide foreigners with information about prevention measures, evacuation, and lifeline, e.g. at advisory service desk.


Volunteer interpreters don't consist only of Japanese people who are proficient in languages. Among foreigners who live in Japan, there are students, businessmen, and language teachers who can speak fluent Japanese. Not only they speak both native language and Japanese, but they are versed in their own culture and custom so that they can well understand the situations and feelings of the foreign sufferers. In that point, it is likely that foreign volunteers can help victims of a disaster more than Japanese volunteers can. Please give it consideration that you as a foreigner would contribute to assisting foreign sufferers during a disaster.

"Foreign Language-Speaking Volunteers of Tokyo City"

The Government of Tokyo organizes "foreign language-speaking volunteer" for the purpose of assisting foreign victims of disasters.

Activities of volunteer

1.Help provide various kinds of information about disasters in multiples languages for the Tokyo Government Office's Disaster Information Center for Foreigners (part of the Tokyo Disaster Response Headquarters).
2. Provide interpretation and translation assistance by request of cities and other municipalities for foreigners who are disaster victims.
Examples of where services can be provided:
(1) Evacuation shelters
(2) Regional disaster volunteer centers
(3) City hospitals and other disaster response medical facilities
3. Participate in disaster response training and Tokyo disaster response (language) volunteer training sessions to improve one's skills.
* Cities and other municipalities may request interpretation or translation assistance for non-disaster-related occasions as well.

They accept applications for the volunteers at any time and it is irrespective of nationality. Check the details at website below.

Disaster Volunteer Interpreter Program by Miyagi Prefecture

Miyagi Prefecture, where Iwate-Miyagi Nairiku Earthquake occurred on 14 June, 2008, establishes "disaster volunteer interpreter program."

Volunteer Interpreters will be sent to evacuation places within the disaster affected areas and asked to translate/interpret messages of staff members in charge there to foreigners, or to assist foreign residents in general matters.

The following is a brief list of what to be translated/interpreted.

  • (1) During disasters: Interpretation and translation services at evacuation centers and other places by request from relation institutions (Miyagi Prefecture, local municipalities, disaster volunteer centers, etc.)
    (2) During non-disaster periods: Participation in prefectural training sessions, disaster prevention training held by municipalities, companies, and civic groups, and training for establishing and managing disaster volunteer centers.

Details are in the website below.

Interpretation and translation volunteers during the Kobe City disaster

Kobe City also establishes disaster volunteer interpreter program, where the great Hanshin-Awaji earthquake once took place.

"Disaster volunteer interpreters" assist foreign victim of a disaster who have more or less communication difficulty in Japanese, by translating or interpreting at evacuation shelters or city hall when an extensive-area disaster like earthquake or flood occurs. Details are given at the website below.

Find out the way to contribute as a disaster volunteer interpreter in your region by checking websites of municipalities, or inquiring at official desk.


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