High-tech startups are entering the field of disaster prevention


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Start-ups are acquiring a growing presence in the field of disaster prevention and reduction, leveraging their technological strength and their ability to rapidly develop goods and services that meet real needs in affected areas.

Wota Corp. launched a portable recycled water treatment device in 2019. Called Wota Box, it is capable of making 98% of the water released after showers, hand washing and laundry reusable. With water quality managed by artificial intelligence technology, Wota Box makes drinking water available when the water supply is cut.

Photo taken on March 30, 2021 in Tokyo shows Yosuke Maeda, president of Wota Corp., standing next to the Wota Box, a portable recycled water treatment device used in disaster situations. (Kyodo)

More than 20 local governments have introduced the device for disaster use.

When a series of earthquakes hit Kumamoto and Oita prefectures in southwestern Japan in 2016, the University of Tokyo startup volunteered to bring a prototype of Wota Box to be used to provide showers in evacuation centers.

Encouraged by the favorable response from the evacuees, Wota set up similar showers in shelters when western Japan was inundated by heavy rains in 2018. Nonetheless, one problem arose: the device needed someone familiar with how it works to be available to operate it.

Wota has thus improved the AI ​​system to make it more user-friendly. In a series of floods caused in July 2020 by heavy rains in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures, shelter staff were able to use Wota Box after receiving instructions from the company.

The experience of its deployment during disasters has made Wota Box “more socially usable,” said Yosuke Maeda, president of Wota.

Kokua Inc., another Tokyo-based startup, began cataloging emergency supplies such as fire extinguishers and survival foods.

The photo shows gift catalogs from Kokua Inc., which provides supplies such as fire extinguishers and disaster survival food. (Courtesy of Kokua Inc.) (Kyodo)

“As no one knows when a disaster will occur, some people are unwilling to buy emergency supplies,” said Yusaku Izumi, president of Kokua. “But if you make it a gift that people can choose from, you give them the opportunity to learn more about the resulting disasters.”

The demand for emergency supplies increases as gifts when people move or build new homes, Izumi said.

Born in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Izumi lived through the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 and worked as a volunteer after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and the Western Rain Disaster from Japan.

He founded Kokua with people who had worked as volunteers with him. They developed its line of emergency supplies based on experiences directly heard by disaster victims.

Ikusa Inc., an event management startup in Tokyo, plans sports festivals for local governments and businesses, allowing attendees to learn disaster protection know-how while enjoying sporting events. , problem-solving games and survival food.

In the emergency supplies market, the value of food inventories alone is expected to reach 27.8 billion yen ($ 252 million) in fiscal year 2024, compared to 14.3 billion yen in fiscal year 2024. fiscal year 2015, according to the Yano Research Institute.

The government is stepping up the responsiveness of its risk management processes in the wake of successive natural disasters and the coronavirus pandemic, said Hironobu Azuma, a researcher familiar with emerging companies at the Japan Research Institute.

Joint efforts between government and startups, which are good at providing easy-to-use tools, to tackle tough disaster challenges, will increase, he said.

The photo shows people gathered for a 2019 disaster prevention sports festival in Kagawa Prefecture, western Japan, hosted by Ikusa Inc., an event management startup in Tokyo. (Courtesy of Ikusa Inc.) (Kyodo)

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