South Korea held its first nationwide air defense drills in six years on Wednesday, August 23, as a response to the growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea. The drills were part of the annual Ulchi civil defense exercises, which aim to improve the readiness of the nation in case of an attack or other emergencies.
The drills involved about 51 million people, who were required to follow the instructions of the authorities during the 20-minute exercise. At 2 p.m., an air-raid siren sounded, signaling people to evacuate to designated shelters or nearby underground spaces. Pedestrians had to get off the streets, while drivers in some areas had to pull over to the side of the road. People in public facilities such as supermarkets, movie theaters and community centers were also guided to evacuate.
In some regions near the border with North Korea, residents faced additional scenarios, such as chemical, biological and radiological training. They had to wear gas masks and use emergency food rations. The drills also tested the government’s response to potential threats such as cyberattacks and drone attacks.
The Ulchi civil defense exercises were launched in 1969, after a raid by North Korean commandos into the presidential compound in Seoul. There are about 17,000 shelters installed across the country. However, the air defense training has not taken place since 2017, due to the diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with North Korea.
The drills came amid the heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, following North Korea’s recent launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach parts of the United States. North Korea has also threatened to conduct another nuclear test and fire missiles toward the US territory of Guam.