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Japan is planning a brand new disaster warning system this year. It will be based on social networking sites and has been drafted in the terrible aftermath of the 2011 disasters. One of the major problems in the aftermath of a disaster is coordination and communication. Natural disasters tend to destroy telephone lines and standard emergency lines.
The internet is however a lot more resilient than a fixed copper wire connecting a phone system. There are many ways to connect to the internet and it is virtually impossible to completely destroy it’s infrastructure. We all have different ways to connect and many of us routinely use social networking sites every day.
The test will focus on the most popular social sites in Japan which are Twitter and a local site called Mixi. All these sites can be accessed by computers, laptops, mobile phones and a host of other devices. The test is initially to help create some ground rules for the communication and ensure you don’t end up with things like false disaster reports creating havoc and panic.
Obviously power cuts and broken telecoms infrastructure will still have an impact, but it is hoped that the resilient nature of the internet will be able to overcome some of these difficulties. The scheduled test will simulate a disaster and see how people use their mobiles and other devices to communicate.
There is great hope for these system and using something like Twitter does seem a sensible option for mass communication. There are issues that may have an impact in many countries though not least the increasing number of restrictions that are put on internet access.
There are worries that these filters that require people using proxies which will end up harming some of the advantages of the internet as a communication medium. This combined with the many companies who are imposing blocks and restrictions on a commercial basis. Even public funded companies like the BBC block access to their site – you need to use proxies to watch BBC Iplayer abroad too – see this watch iplayer abroad
Fortunately you don’t need a Japan proxy yet as they do not currently block or censor the internet to any great extent but many countries do. Whether this will pose to be real issue or not is hard to say, but it’s certainly a concern.