A popular hiking app developed by a Japanese firm has become a useful tool for rescuers to locate stranded people on mountains, with the GPS technology enabling exact locations to be shared even when cell phone connections are cut.
Yamap Inc., a tech company based in Fukuoka in southwestern Japan, said it has been contacted by police, relief teams and others seeking the app data on 200 cases in 2022, sharply up from 46 in 2020 and 89 in 2021.
A total of 16 prefectural police forces across Japan, including in Iwate, Miyagi, Shizuoka, Nagano and Kumamoto, have signed an agreement with the company in a bid to seek swift access to accurate information on mountaineers potentially caught in accidents.
Users of the app can find their location on a map downloaded to their phones. The data can be shared with families and friends even when users are in a location with no cell service.
When informed of a stranded mountaineer, police and rescuers ask Yamap if the missing person is a user of the app. If so, the company then directly tells the rescue team the latitude and longitude of the location of the person.
One of the biggest obstacles, in the past, of locating a missing climber was that their trekking plans could only be obtained via a climbing registration form, which was either dropped into a designated box at the entrance of a mountain trail or sent to police by email.
But now, when users plan a hike in any of the 16 prefectures, they can submit the official mountain climbing registration form through the app and the information will be shared with police.
Kotaro Hara, chief of the Miyagi Prefectural Police, said the app "contributes to the swift discovery and rescue" of those caught in mountain accidents.
The app had been downloaded a total of 3.8 million times as of the end of July this year, a considerable ratio among the domestic mountain climbing population, which was around 4.4 million in 2021, according to an annual white paper on Japan's leisure activities.
The number of mountain accidents in Japan, meanwhile, hit 3,015 in 2022, up 380 from the year before and also the highest among comparable data available since 1961, as climbing trails and mountain huts started to reopen following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the National Police Agency.
Yamap public relations manager Hidefumi Chida said, "It takes time to make rescue if the (stranded) person's location is not known."
"We hope the app will be used for quick rescues through expanded coordination," Chida said.