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Wayfinding during an emergency: Living in Japan Information

Category : EmergencyLiving in Tokyo

Knowing the location of emergency exits helps you take proper action when an unexpected event happens. In preparation for disaster, such as fire, you should check an emergency sign and the evacuation route at places you are; at your apartment, hotel, subway station, and shopping mall.

How to read emergency signs

In case of emergency, a fire, for example, you can find an evacuation route by following an emergency sign which has a human pictogram indicating an emergency exit. The emergency sign is basically in green color and is provided with 3 different types in accordance with the distance from the exit door;

White signboard with a green pictogram and arrow

This emergency sign indicates the direction of the way leading to an exit. People can reach an exit door by following the arrow on it.

Green signboard with a white pictogram and arrow

The sign indicates an emergency exit nearby there. For example, the signboard with a left arrow denotes “An emergency exit here on the left.”

Green signboard with a white pictogram, without arrows

This signboard is placed at an emergency exit door. The sign sometimes comes with Japanese characters ’非常口(Exit)’ instead of a pictogram.

Emergency signs

Emergency Sign Boards

Wayfinding during a fire evacuation at apartment or hotel

In case of a fire at storied buildings, people should use stairs for evacuation. The building standards law Japan (BSL) requires storied-buildings to ensure two ways of evacuation, stairs and fire ladders in most cases. In principle, using stairs must be the first option as stairs are built by a fireproof construction so that people can exit a building safely, as long as they act calmly.

A fire ladder is installed in a hatch, usually placed at the balcony, but the use of a fire ladder should be last resort as the fire ladder is not simple to handle for anybody. Besides, the ladder is not provided at all the balconies on the same floor. If your balcony has not the ladder, you need to head to the hatch by breaking down partition walls between balconies. Although it should be necessary to know how to use a fire ladder just in case, remember to use stairways for evacuation.

What to know about using stairways during a fire evacuation

One crucial act during a fire evacuation is to close doors when you leave your room and then head to the emergency exit so that you can shut out smoke from the stairway area and secure an evacuation route for everyone there. It says smoke can spread 3 or even 5 meters per second, comes up to upper floors very quickly, making people hard to exit the building. In fact, carbon monoxide poisoning by breathing the smoke is the biggest cause of death from a fire.

If the building is already filled with smoke, keep a low posture, and cover your mouth and nose to prevent from breathing smoke while heading to the exit. In an emergency, people tend to panic and rush into an exit door all at once. We should keep in mind that staying calm and taking proper action is the key to escape safely for each other.


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