S. Korea to hold nationwide civil air defense drills in May after 6-year hiatus

SEOUL– South Korea plans to stage nationwide civil air defense drills in May for the first time in six years, its military said Wednesday, in a move to reinforce public safety amid evolving North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the plan and other measures were discussed at the annual central integrated defense council meeting presided over by President Yoon Suk Yeol in Seoul.

The measures included improving a disaster alert system and reinforcing evacuation facilities and inter-agency cooperation for early responses to contingencies.

Atop the agenda was the plan to conduct the civil air defense drills that have not been held on a nationwide scale since 2017.

The drills did not take place in 2018 and 2019 amid the government’s focus on disaster responses in the aftermath of an earthquake that hit the eastern coastal city of Pohang in 2018. In the following years, they were put on hold due to COVID-19.

Participants also discussed other measures to bolster the country’s civil defense, such as instantly sending mobile phone text messages for air raid alerts.

In November, the government came under criticism as they sent warnings belatedly over a North Korean missile that fell into waters south of the de facto sea border.

They also touched on the expansion of evacuation facilities through a measure that makes it mandatory for public facilities, apartment complexes and commercial buildings to house evacuation shelters, which can be used as swimming pools or libraries on ordinary days.

The country currently has designated enough shelters to house more than double its total population. But many of them were underground parking lots and shopping malls that do not offer full protection, a military official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The participants concurred on the need for preparation and training for a coordinated response by government agencies against terrorist attacks, according to the JCS.

It marks the first time since 2016 that a president has led the council meeting — an indication that the government shares the growing need to bolster public safety measures due to the North’s persistent push for nuclear and missile programs.

The North launched around 70 ballistic missiles in 2022, the most in a single year, amid speculation it may conduct a nuclear test in the near future.

The latest council meeting was attended by some 160 officials from various organizations, including the central and provincial governments, the National Assembly, the National Intelligence Service and the Seoul municipality.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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