January 3

A group of Israeli tech entrepreneurs is working to provide phone and Internet access and off-grid electricity for victims of the New Year’s Day earthquake and tsunami that hit central Japan.

SmartAID, an Israel-based international humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization, said it had two representatives stationed in Japan who immediately headed towards the Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures nearest the epicenter of the earthquake, and sent two more to help them.

The organization uses technology and innovation to alleviate suffering. It’s currently working inside Israel as well due to the Gaza conflict.

“It’s very important for the world to know that regardless of what’s happening here in Israel, that Israel is still here to help others around the world,” said Shachar Zahavi, founding director of SmartAID.

Since the Hamas massacre of October 7, his organization has installed Wi-Fi and telecommunication systems in civilian shelters in Israel, established technological centers for local municipalities and first responders, created smart classrooms for evacuated children and provided them with tablets.

“We need to help at home and we need to help globally,” Zahavi said.

“We see that other communities are in trouble and we’re strong enough, and we’re large enough, to respond to a few different types of disasters at the same time.”

The priority for SmartAID in Japan is to make sure residents and local first responders can communicate by phone and Internet and that they have access to electricity.

“Providing electricity supports the first responders so they can coordinate and move people from one place to another, and helps medical teams that need light to do their work,” said Zahavi.

A scene from the earthquake-caused tsunami in Japan on January 1, 2024. Photo by Adansijav Official via Shutterstock.com
A scene from the earthquake-caused tsunami in Japan on January 1, 2024. Photo by Adansijav Official via Shutterstock.com

Buildings were destroyed and thousands of homes were left without power in the 7.6-magnitude earthquake, which also led to dozens of fatalities.

SmartAID often dispatches search-and-rescue teams of 20 to 25 people in a private plane within hours of learning of a disaster, as it did in the Turkey earthquake last February. 

In this case, Japan has its own search-and-rescue teams but can benefit from SmartAID’s help in restoring power and communication. (ZAKA, the volunteer search-and-rescue organization also based in Israel, said it had yet to decide if it will send a team to Japan.)

It usually takes 48 hours to properly understand the scale of the disaster, said Zahavi.

“Every day it unfolds and you get a much clearer vision of the scope and the need,” he said. “Our primary goal is to bring clean water, clean energy, telecommunications and other tech solutions to humanitarian disasters. We have global tech partners all the way from DHL to Microsoft other groups.”

More on Life

More on SmartAID