A welcome update to an essential service.

Even after living in Japan for many years, I occasionally worry if I’d be able to properly navigate a call to either of Japan’s emergency numbers, 110 to contact the police and 119 to reach fire and ambulance services. Even though I can handle most day to day situations, I suspect that I lack the vocabulary to adequately describe all the details of a car wreck or people fighting over diapers on the phone, especially in a high-pressure situation.

Luckily, the National Police Agency are working on a system that can alleviate my concerns and make reporting emergencies easier for everyone involved. From 1 October, trials will begin for a 110 video reporting system in which you can stream video from your phone to emergency operators so they can get a better grasp of what’s going on at the scene.

▼ News report showing a demonstration of the system

They way it works is when a 110 call is made, the operator will listen to the problem and then determine if a video feed is necessary. If so, they will send a link via SMS to the caller’s smartphone that will set up the video connection. While streaming, the caller will still be in audio contact with the operator so they can give instructions such as “turn the camera a little left” in real time.

In addition to the live streaming, it will be possible to upload saved photos and videos to the operator that can help them deal with the problem. A similar system has been in use in Hyogo Prefecture since 2020 and since then about 500 videos have been submitted. In one case a video clearly showed a criminal’s vehicle as they were escaping, which allowed officers to find and catch them swiftly.

Readers of the news were optimistic about the new feature and even the most cynical of online comments were hard-pressed to find any major problems with it.

“It’s a good idea, but I wonder if the process is too time consuming.”
“It’s certainly a sign of the times.”
“I always think of the police as very analog, but it looks like they’re progressing.”
“When I had to report something, I was frustrated because I had trouble verbalizing what a picture could describe instantly.”
“Not bad.”
“I’m impressed they’re actually going through with this.”
“This sounds good. Any footage of aggressive drivers, molesters on trains, or violent drunks will be sent directly to the police to be used as evidence.”
“It’s great to send videos so the people on the other end can instantly grasp what’s going on.”
“They need to make it a one-click function though.”

Unfortunately the National Police Agency admits that when using the service, callers must first agree to the terms such as waiving copyright of the images. There are also some issues with the upload speed that can hopefully be ironed out as the trial gets underway.

Another limitation is that the caller must be using a smartphone. Even though older flip phones have a camera equipped they are not compatible with the system, which is bad news for senior yakuza members dialling 110…I’m sure one has at some point in history. 

But despite these setbacks, it still sounds like a great idea that can improve emergency response in a number of ways. Hopefully, it can continue to grow and improve to make life in Japan just that much better.

Source: The Sankei News, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso
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