Seoul’s decision today to “temporarily suspend” the nationwide civilian drills had been anticipated since the United States and South Korea halted their annual military exercises following a summit last month between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Streets in South Korean cities froze at the sound of air-raid sirens every year during the Ulchi drills in August with cars stopping on roads, pedestrians moving into buildings and subway stations, and government workers evacuating from their offices.
Kim Boo Kyum, minister of the interior and safety, said the suspension of the civilian drills was a follow-up to the suspension of the military exercises amid recent changes in “South-North relations and other security situations.” He said the government and military will work to design a new civil defense program to be launched next year that will be aimed at preparing people for natural disasters and terrorist attacks in addition to military attacks.
The Ulchi civilian drills were launched in 1968, a year after a failed attempt by North Korean commandos to assassinate then-South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee. There had been criticism on whether the civilian exercises were adequately preparing South Koreans from North Korean threats. For most South Koreans, there’s no real training, with people standing around in gathering spots, staring into their phones or looking frustrated. Many schools didn’t participate in the air-raid drills.
While South Korea has nearly 19,000 evacuation shelters, mostly in subway stations and parking garages, surveys have shown most people did not know which shelters were closest to their homes.