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 may then be saved as an SMS text message (on Android; on iPhones there's not a convenient way to save/translate the alerts).

These alerts are pretty much always in Korean. So it can be hard for new arrivals in Korea (study-abroad students, new ESL teachers, soldiers, tourists, etc.) 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. In fact, 90% of the time these alerts are just for severe weather related issues, usually:
  • heavy rain and flooding warnings
  • heat waves
  • cold waves
  • fine dust pollution

But it can be unnerving to not know what's going on. So here are some resources that can help you figure out what's happening.

Useful resources for Korean emergency alert messages

Best English option: "Emergency Ready" app

Emergency Ready App screenshot

The Korean Ministry of the Interior and Safety provides a freely downloadable app called "Emergency Ready" which provides multilingual translations (currently English and Chinese, depending on your phone's system language) of these emergency alerts.

This is a nice app because it can send push notifications to your phone once the translations are made available (usually a matter of minutes after they go out via emergency SMS in Korean). You can also specify the regions for which you want to receive alerts. Set it up once, and then you can shut off the emergency alert reception in your phone's settings. The push alerts are calm and quiet, unlike the iPhone's habit of blaring a very loud alarm pulse each time you receive from the emergency system.

And at any time (including after the alerts were sent) you can launch the app and click the "Disaster Alerts" button to see a history of the latest alerts (translated to English, sometimes by humans it seems and sometimes by machine) from around Korea. This is a great way to see what was sent to your phone a few minutes ago.

List of emergency alerts sent out across Korea

The settings page includes options to "Set disaster alert" (i.e. receive push notifications from the app), setting the sound/vibration when receiving them, and the areas you want to be alerted for.

System settings

From the "receive area" you can specify localities from the province to the local level. Here I have set mine to receive notifications for Incheon, Gyeonggi-do, and Seoul, but you can choose much more specific locations. All of this is done in English.

Specifying locations for alerts

Here's an example of the push notifications that come from the app. 

Sample push notification on iPhone

You can download the app here:

If for some reason you need the Korean version of the app, which can allow you to recieve Korean alerts for specific regions or multiple regions, grab it here:

Other English resources

Here's an example of a translation provided by the IGVC:


[Songpa District Office] (as of May 19th (Tues) 20:30) 1 additional confirmed case (Garak-dong). Quarantine, disinfection and epidemiological survey completed. Details: songpa.go.kr
Posted by Itaewon Global Village Center on Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Korean-language resources

If all else fails, the alerts are usually copied on some Korean websites, which you can then auto-translate. 

  • The official Korean version of the Emergency Ready app is known as 안전디딤돌 and available on Android or iOS.
  • Check this archive of emergency messages: 국민재난안전포털 at the National Disaster Safety portal site (formerly at 국민재난안전포털). This is a list of all the recent emergency alerts targeted to various areas of the country. In Korean, but your browser can translate it.
  • Check the archive of emergency broadcast messages here: 긴급재난문자< 재난상황정보< 뉴스/알림< 국민안전처 대표 홈페이지 (defunct)
  • Follow the Korean Emergency Management Agency on Twitter at @safeppy (formerly @Nema_SafeKorea). They retweet a lot of junk though in addition to emergency alerts. 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.

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

Some real life Korean alert message samples

Here are some examples of emergency alerts I have received in the past. I'll try to include a variety here.

2020 - Warnings about coronavirus 

Coronavirus warning and precaution messages

The beginning of 2020 saw pretty big hysteria about the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus from China. This led to the biggest blitz of emergency warning messages I have ever seen, as countless departments and local municipal governments sent out multiple alerts, sometimes identical copies, warning citizens to take precautions against the spread of the virus by washing hands and wearing masks, and urging citizens to call the governmental health hotline instead of showing up to hospitals if they felt they may have contracted the virus.

You can see in the screenshot above how frequently these messages came. Each message begins with the department/locality that is sending it, which suggests that pretty much any local authority has access to this system. Either out of an abundance of caution, or out of worry of being labeled non-proactive, it seemed like every organization felt the need to issue their own variation of the same basic alert.

Alerts from Busan city documenting a virus carrier's movements. Image from Reddit 

It also led to the system being used to pass on minute detail, such as this example above where the city of Busan alerts every citizen of the movements of a known carrier. The government's use of GPS and credit card data to track the movements of the infected make me wonder: in theory, couldn't they acquire the same big data from all network users, cross reference, and then target these warnings to specific individuals who we would know inadvertently came into contact with these carriers? Huge privacy invasion but at least theoretically possible.

Emergency Alerts and mistranslations. Image: @koryodynasty

Mistranslation of alert

And I think an inadvertent problem arose in the frenzy to send out constant alerts: it seems there wasn't time or manpower available to proof the translations of these alerts that are sent out in government SNS and the Emergency Ready app, and so automatic machine translations were used more often than is usual for these alerts. The result was poor or confusing translations, especially in situations where place names or terminology were not well understood by the software. In 2 examples above, 확진자 이동경로 was translated as "breadcrumbs" when it really should be "known path" (I suppose if you presume a metaphor, it makes sense) and 음성 was translated as "voices" when in this case the other meaning of "negative" (as in test results) is meant.

Obviously the local governments have their hands full already, but it seems like it wouldn't be difficult to have one or two reliable translators somewhere who could proof these short phrases via chat beforehand. It does show the danger in relying on translations.

2019-10-14 Warning about gunshots from wild boar hunting

The recent outbreak of African swine flu has been traced to wild mountain boars roaming the DMZ. It's gotten so bad that the government has brought in teams of hunters to shoot the hogs. [South Korea to Deploy Snipers to Hunt Down North’s Sick Pigs - Bloomberg] This alert warns hikers and others to be careful to avoid the gunshots.

2019-9-6 Warning about Hepatitis A

A weird alert about the spread of Hepatitis A among people in their 20s~40s, advising people to get a (non-free) vaccination and to take precautions like washing hands. Another step in this "emergency" system's transition to a full-blown Public Service Announcement medium. Thanks to @Kowiana.

2019-03-03 Warning about closed kindergartens

This was another weird one. This came from the county education office warning that some private kindergartens will refuse to open tomorrow (Monday) in protest of government intervention in the sector, so parents better make alternative plans for your kids. I guess that constitutes an "emergency" if you're a dual-income family with no alternative place to drop the kids.

More on that:

2019-02-18 Practice fire safety during Korean Halloween

정월대보름 맞이 달집태우기 쥐불놀이 풍등 날리기 행사시 화재예방에 유의하여 주시기 바랍니다

A buddy forwarded this one to me, and I had to laugh when I saw it. What a stupid use of the emergency alert system. This one is about Daeboreum (a traditional holiday in essence like a Korean Halloween; a time of spirits roaming around so you better crack nuts in place of Jack-o-lanterns etc). The message is warning people to be safe and play with fire cautiously when performing traditional Korean "warding off evil spirits" events, which usually include setting straw branches on fire and swinging them all around your head. Obviously this is the kind of activity you would enjoy in an open countryside field and not anywhere near a major city so the fact that the Incheon City government felt a need to send this out sort of tells you something about the kind of people who live there. Not that I reside in SKY Castle or anything.

2019-02-01 Happy Lunar New Year, beware foot and mouth

This message starts out wishing us all a happy Lunar New Year, then reminds us that if we're heading back to our countryside hometowns for the holidays, beware visiting farms and be vigilant about the recent foot and mouth disease outbreak.

2018-09-19 Escaped puma on the loose!

Image: SBS News

I just had to include this one to immortalize it forever. A puma (yes, the big cat) escaped and was on the loose in Daejeon, prompting authorities to issue this warning about it. Sadly the puma was found and shot dead, prompting "퓨마 사살" to trend on Twitter.

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.

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 defense 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, neighborhood civil defense 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.


Don't panic. Especially if you come from a country that rarely issues severe weather, heatwave, etc type alerts via SMS, the sudden message and loud buzzing of your phone can be shocking and frightening. But 99.999% of the time, it's really something you don't have to worry about at all. Check the links I posted up at the top of this post if you're unsure. Otherwise just relax and enjoy your stay.