The new orange flag warning system aims to help those at sea become aware of an earthquake or tsunami before it’s too late.
On the morning of 22 November, a magnitude 7.4 earthquake hit off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, prompting the Japan Meteorological Agency to issue a tsunami warning urging residents to evacuate. For many locals, the event was a chilling reminder of the Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred in 2011, when more than 15,000 people lost their lives and thousands more were reported injured or missing.
Sadly, earthquakes and tsunami pose an ever-present threat to people living in Japan, and one of the best ways to save lives is by being prepared for emergency situations. One Japanese team of volunteers is now addressing the issue of people out at sea during times of natural disaster, as swimmers and surfers are unable to feel the ground shake offshore and are in danger of missing tsunami alerts issued by the meteorological agency.
▼ This comic shows how effective a visual alert can be for those at sea,
prompting them to escape to safe, higher ground immediately.
The solution being proposed as part of the new project is simple but it can be incredibly effective at saving lives. The aim is to use orange flags as a tsunami alert signal to let people in the ocean know they need to evacuate the area immediately.
The project, #beORANGE, pronounced as “HashbeOrange”, is being run by Disaster Girl and the Nippon Foundation, two organisations dedicated to increasing disaster prevention awareness. After establishing the project on social media accounts in June this year, the initiative has received overwhelming support from people around the country and the national Nippon Surfing Association.
As well as being a bright colour that can be easily seen across long distances, orange is the colour of a sunset or sunrise that many associate with the beach. This project now wants everyone to be aware that “Orange is the colour of tsunami disaster prevention.”
Volunteers associated with the project have been working hard to increase public knowledge of the new warning system by handing out flyers at events like the 2016 All Japan Surfing Championship.
Teams have also held disaster drills in seaside areas like Shizuoka, Aichi and Kochi prefectures, where volunteers showed how the flag system can be implemented on the beach initially and then from the rooftops of buildings to ensure the safety of the flag-wavers.
The use of orange flags on tall buildings works as a warning system for people at sea and on land, while also being an effective marker to guide all residents to safe evacuation areas.
Teams have been raising funds and drawing attention to their cause by selling knotted misanga bracelets. They have received a huge amount of support so far, with their bracelets recently ranking as the fourth most popular selling accessory on Japanese online retail website Rakuten.
#beORANGE @海の防災 (@hashbeorange) September 08, 2016
The bracelets function as more than just a fashion accessory, with the rope inside working as a useful tool in times of emergency. There are at least ten ways the rope can come in handy during a disaster situation, which include being used as a whistle or a tourniquet or even a line from which to hang an SOS flag.
Following their success in implementing the orange flag strategy in Shizuoka, Aichi and Kochi, organisers now aim to spread the visual warning system throughout Japan. People are being invited to help by buying the special misanga bracelets, spreading the word on social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and getting involved in events advertised on the official #beORANGE website.