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Air raid drills return in 6 years amid growing N.Korean threats

Yoon accuses his predecessor Moon of relying on ‘fake peace'

Feb. 8, 2023 - 15:59 By Ji Da-gyum

President Yoon Suk Yeol (3rd from L) speaks during a meeting on integrated defense at Cheong Wa Dae, the former presidential office, in Seoul on Feb. 8, 2023. The meeting is aimed at discussing ways to ensure unity of the administrative, military and police branches, as well as civilians, in the country`s defense. (Yonhap)
South Korea will hold nationwide civil air raid drills in May after a six-year break, improve public alert and warning systems and expand shelters in preparation for potential aircraft and missile attacks from North Korea.

The measures were discussed Wednesday in a closed-door meeting of the Central United Defense Council convened by President Yoon Suk Yeol. It was the first time that a South Korean president presided over the meeting since 2016, in light of the significance of pangovernmental efforts to maintain a strong security posture amid growing threats from North Korea.

Yoon accused the liberal former Moon Jae-in government of neglecting civil defense drills and undermining the pangovernmental system to integrate the national defense capabilities of the government, military, police and civil sector.

“The previous government scaled down council sessions and did not properly stage joint (defense) drills involving the civil sector, government, military and police while relying on fake peace,” Yoon told some 160 officials at the Yeongbingwan state guest house at the former Cheong Wa Dae presidential compound in Jongno-gu, Seoul.

“We should examine whether there are any gaps in integrated defense posture against various types of North Korean provocations and overhaul the government’s emergency preparedness system,” Yoon said, pledging to personally convene a meeting of the central integrated defense council every year.

The council meeting of South Korean government, military and police officials was held as North Korea recently declared South Korea as an "undoubted enemy" and openly threatened to launch preemptive nuclear strikes. The threats posed by uncrewed aerial vehicles, terrorism and cyberattacks to public safety have also increased.

Therefore, the main discussion topic was how to enhance the South Korean government's response capabilities to North Korean missile and nuclear threats and high-intensity provocations, and to protect the public from these threats.

The officials in attendance at the council meeting agreed on the importance of resuming nationwide civil air defense drills in May. The last full-scale drills were held in August 2017, as confirmed by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff in a separate statement.

The officials also agreed on the necessity of improving the public alert and warning system. Currently, South Korean government agencies issue civil air defense alarms by sounding sirens and broadcasting alerts via TV and radio.

Government agencies will push to establish a new public alert system via mobile notifications in case of an imminent attack of enemy missiles or aircraft.

Another key topic was on the reinforcement and expansion of civil defense shelters in preparation for escalating nuclear and missile threats from North Korea.

Public shelters can theoretically accommodate around 2.74 times the South Korean population but the military sees that the shelters -- a majority of which are subway stations, underground parking lots and underground shopping complexes -- will not be able to effectively protect people.

Civilian bunkers and shelters can only cover 1.2 percent of residents in border areas such as Cheorwon County in Gangwon Province and Yeoncheon County in Gyeonggi Province.

The council meeting also concentrated on discussing measures to enhance South Korea’s capabilities and readiness posture against terrorism and cyberthreats.

The officials notably shared views on how to protect information and communications infrastructure from potential external attacks including terrorism. In particular, the South Korean military sees that data centers -- which provide shared access to applications and data -- should be designated as “important national facilities” and called for more interagency cooperation.

Only three out of 90 data centers in South Korea have been designated as important national facilities.

“As the fire at the Kakao data center last year shows, data centers are directly connected to people’s lives and the economy. Therefore, such infrastructure should be protected,” one military official who wished to remain anonymous told reporters.

If data centers are designated as important national facilities, government personnel would be deployed for their protection and the state would take measures to prevent dangerous situations.

During the council meeting, Yoon underscored the unstable global security situation amid growing terrorist threats.

“This rapidly changing security environment demands us to substantially enhance readiness posture against all potential dangers,” he said.