Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry plans to develop a new emergency-broadcast system capable of automatically turning on cell phones so it can send a warning alarm and information to them in case of a major earthquake or other natural disaster.

The ministry is planning to start testing the system, which uses a digital terrestrial television broadcasting signal, before March 31, and it hopes to be able to put it into practice within a few years, a ministry official said.

The system would allow cell phone users to receive useful data, including information about disasters, and evacuation instructions and routes. The ministry believes text messages would help people evacuate a disaster area safely and, in doing so, prevent a disaster situation from worsening.

The ministry plans to test the system in Sapporo in April 2006, piggybacking a new broadcasting system, called One Seg, that is being set up to enable television programs to be played on cell phones.

The new system will enable the ministry to send an emergency-broadcast signal to specially designed cell phones capable of being switched on remotely.

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