Friday, July 8, 2016

Korean emergency alert messages on your phone

If you bought a phone in Korea, now and then you may receive Emergency Alert text messages from the Korean government. These arrive as alerts that make your phone vibrate or sound multiple times, presenting a message on-screen, which then gets saved as an SMS text message.

However these are pretty much always in Korean. So it can be hard for new arrivals in Korea to know what's going on. Are we under attack? Do you need to swap all your currency for bitcoin and swim to Japan? Probably not. Most of these alerts are for severe weather, like warnings about floods, heatwaves, heavy rain, etc.

Note: This post has been edited to include the resources below. Old example screenshots and explanations remain after that. 

For awhile here I posted copies of messages I'd get and translate them for you. But I sometimes don't get around to it right away and by the time I do the event is over anyway. Plus since I swapped my SIM into a new phone, I haven't received any.

So if you're confused, here are a few resources that might help you.

Resources for Korean Emergency Alert messages

  • Sign-up to get English language air quality alerts via SMS from Seoul City Government
  • Sign-up to receive real-time alerts via Twitter from Seoul Lifeline
  • Check the #KoreaEmergencySMS hashtag on Twitter
    I used to try to post copies there as soon as I could, but since sticking my SIM into a new phone I've stopped receiving them myself. 
  • Follow the Korean Emergency Management Agency on Twitter at @safeppy (formerly @Nema_SafeKorea)
    This will get you most all the alerts anytime for almost any part of the country. That be overkill, and they retweet a lot of junk. Plus it's only in Korean. But Twitter can auto-translate them for you, so check the tweet dates and compare with your phone's message.
  • Check the archive of emergency broadcast messages here: 긴급재난문자< 재난상황정보< 뉴스/알림< 국민안전처 대표 홈페이지.
    That site also reveals the exact cities/areas/regions targeted by each message. But again, in Korean.
  • Check the KMA's English warning site at
    They may have a very recent warning that likely is the same issue your emergency alert is describing, and in English.
  • Try checking your SMS logs, and just plain copy/pasting the message into a translation app. This actually generally works pretty well to give you an idea of what's going on. 

If you're still unsure, tweet me @10wontips with a screenshot and I'll try to get back to you.

Some older examples of Korean emergency SMS message I received  from when this post first went up continues below.

Some real life Korean SMS Alert samples

2016-09-19 Earthquake aftershocks

Image: Twitter user nd_dutch

Once again, I didn't receive this alert as I'm not located in that area (I'm up in the Seoul suburbs), but since earthquakes are such rare events here (or they were until this month!) I wanted to add this one to the collection. It reads 경북 경주시 남남서쪽 11km1 지역 규모4.5 지진발생/여진 등 인전에 주의바랍니다. Just warning people to be careful around Gyeongju, Gyeongsan-bukdo from earthquake aftershocks. A 4.5er, wow. These earthquakes are leaving serious damage to people's homes and leaving roofs exposed open: Earthquakes leave many in Gyeongju exposed-INSIDE Korea JoongAng Daily

2016-09-12 Earthquake!

I didn't get any SMS alert for this one, but Reddit user a_consultant received one. I've never known an earthquake in Korea, so that was pretty interesting. This message just gives basic info of the earthquake centered near Gyeongju in Gyeongsan-bukdo, and warns to be careful of aftershocks.

2016-08-02 Downpour warning 

This was an interesting one. I was down near the Sosa area at the time, and got this alert warning about an imminent rain shower downpour in the Bucheon city area. It warns people who are playing in streams, rivers, etc. to watch out. Sure enough, about 5~10 minutes later, a very heavy downpour started and for about 20 minutes or so it was like a flood from the sky. I can easily see how some flash flooding could occur.

This was my personal first for such a specific location warning. I've gotten warnings for Seoul city, and for the whole western coast, but nothing that fine tuned. I'm going to have to assume they're sending to all phones in a given cell area, because I've missed some that others get when I'm out of the area at the time.

Since I started collecting these here, it's probably a pretty dead giveaway that I don't travel around as much as I used to haha.

Summer of 2016 Heat Advisories 

This summer felt hotter than last year, and it must have been, given all the warnings we got about heat advisories. I'll just stick them all right here. All of these are basically the same: it's going to be super hot today, old people should be careful, be careful playing in water, stay cool and hydrated, etc.

These are the days I received such warnings:

  • 2016-08-21
  • 2016-08-04
  • 2016-07-31 
  • 2016-07-20
  • 2016-07-08

2014-07-25 Storm Warning

If you don't know any Korean at all, the above might make you panic. No, North Korea is not attacking. They're just precautionary warnings. For example, the one above reads:

7월25일20시서해중부먼바다 풍랑경보, 어선은 출항을 금지하고 출항 한 어선은 신속히 대피하시기 바랍니다

National Emergency Management Agency -
This is a storm warning alert for the off-shore Central West-Sea area [or in English, the Yellow Sea] for July 25th, 8pm. Fishing boats should not depart, and fishing boats already departed should return to shelter immediately.

2014-03-14 Civil Air Defense Drill 

Here's another example of one from a few months ago. This is the kind that is most common:

3월 14일 14시 민방위훈련 전국 실시, 민방공 경보 발령, 15분간 주민대피, 차량통제

National Emergency Management Agency
At 2pm on March 14th, a nationwide civil air defence drill will be issued [thus the air raid sirens you'll hear at this time]. For 15 minutes residents should seek shelter and vehicle use will be restricted.

If you've never experienced this sort of drill before, here's what you can expect:
  • Air raid sirens
  • People walking along the street should stop and wait patiently inside doorways, under awnings, or ideally inside. 
  • Cars and buses will sit idle, as intersections should be kept clear (in some areas, neighbourhood civil defence coordinators, who are often old men in armed-forced-emblem baseball caps, will stand in the intersection, yelling at people to shut up, don't move, stay calm.
Here's a good short video demonstrating what to expect:

If you're caught in this situation, I suggest taking it in stride and enjoying this piece of Koreana. If anything, it's nice to see the crowded, ever-traffic-logged streets of Seoul in an artificially peaceful moment.

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