Notification: Its impact during a natural calamity

As active smartphone users, we are fully aware of what notifications are. While designing products, somewhere in our mind we always keep the ‘notification’ module as part of a template in anything we work with.

In an article by Stephen Conn, he wrote:

“Notifications used in any app would probably distract you no matter what you’re doing”

Which in a way is true. Sometimes when I am in the midst of some serious work I hear a ‘buzz’ or notification tune and immediately go towards my phone to see what it is about. Close to 40% of the time, it would be something which is of no use to me and I feel like I unnecessarily wasted my time.

But like the proverb – ‘A coin has two sides’, notifications have a good side too and here is my experience as evidence.

I am currently living in Japan and being an island itself, the country faces a lot of natural calamities ranging from a mild typhoon to severe earthquakes. The 2011 tsunami was the most unforgettable calamity and we all remember the destruction and loss of lives it caused.

In October 2019, JMA (Japan Metropolitan Agency) sent us information via email and SMS –  that an extremely violent and large tropical cyclone called ‘Typhoon Hagibis’ would come across Japan that would last for 4 to 6 hours. As JMA had tackled the 2011 unfortunate incident, they were now more vigilant and well prepared.

Typhoon Hagibis would come up in different prefectures and JMA mentioned they would ‘notify us’ whenever the typhoon passes through a specific town or city and also when it ends.  A week before this calamity, JMA notified the residence of a list of evacuation camps in case the residents weren’t living in an apartment or if the situation got worse. 

JMA had informed us that the typhoon would come to our town on October 12 and as predicted, it came out true. 

This is what happened:

October 12 2019 (10:27 AM) – We received the first notification saying that the typhoon passed through a town 10 km away from our home. Even though the notification we received was in Japanese, it came with an audio English. This is the image of the notification we received

2:39 PM –  We received another notification saying that the typhoon would soon be passing our town and that we had to remain indoors 

By this time we were at home and prepared in case of any evacuation.


10:50 PM – We received final notification from JMA saying that the typhoon has stopped and we are safe to step out of our homes.

This is not an isolated incident where notifications were used to save lives. On February 1, 2020 around 2 AM, we received another alert notification informing us that an earthquake would occur.

01/02/2020 2:07AM

In conclusion, instead of being an afterthought, notification features can be designed to serve as a purpose that users really need.

Wondering how to design notifications effectively? Here’s a wonderful article to help you out:  How To Design Notifications For Better UX

Till then, stay home and stay safe during this COVID19  pandemic.

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