Residents of Japan are used to receiving phone notifications of natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, but from next week the government will be able to warn them of a whole new threat. On Tuesday, the country's Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA) will flip the switch on a new alert system designed to relay information on nearby ballistic missile launches.

The notifications will be sent through the same J-Alert system used to warn residents of earthquakes, and users with phones or smartphones on the three major carriers NTT Docomo, KDDI, and SoftBank will automatically start receiving them for free. Local governments can already receive the same missile data from the FDMA and notify citizens via loudspeaker or other means, but the phone notification system should prove more direct.

North Korea fired missiles into the Sea of Japan this week

Japan often has to deal with the threat of North Korean missile launches in particular. Although the vast majority are provocative tests intended as acts of defiance, North Korea's combination of armaments and unpredictability means countries in the region must be on constant alert. Recent incidents include the country's first successful satellite launch, a third underground nuclear test, and the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong island in which four South Koreans were killed.

North Korea has launched several short-range missiles into the sea in the past two months, but earlier this week conducted its first test of Rodong mid-range missiles in close to five years; the two projectiles traveled over 400 miles before landing in the Sea of Japan.