About the Author
View more articles by Tae-il Shim
Tae-il Shim is a pseudonym for a North Korean defector writer. He left the DPRK in 2018, and now resides in South Korea.
Good morning, afternoon, and evening to all our NK News readers, wherever you may be in the world, and welcome to today’s installment of Ask a North Korean: the feature where you ask our very own North Korean writers your questions about life on the ground in the DPRK.
Today’s question comes from Richard, who asks about what policies North Korea has put in place for its people in the event of a disaster.
North Korean propaganda is constantly reminding its people of the threat from outside, and measures have been put in place to protect the population from these dangers, as Tae-il Shim explains.
Got a question for Tae-il? Email it to [email protected] with your name and city. We’ll be publishing the best ones.
The term ‘natural disaster’ has been used frequently since the death of Kim Il Sung on July 8, 1994, to explain why we did not receive our expected food rations, among other things, after a famine had swept the country.
The government still uses the term in this way today, which is absurd because there must have been natural disasters before July 1994.
However, whether or not North Korea really is experiencing more natural disasters, no noteworthy actions or preventative measures have been taken to alleviate such damage.
When it comes to war-related threats, North Korea is equipped with an anti-U.S.-terrorism strategy. American wars in Afghanistan, airstrikes on Libya, and the fate of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein often provide the rationale for their thoroughness.
Terrorism- and war-related notices are posted in each factory complex, county, and city. For example, people are told which song will be broadcast in an event of an airstrike and a poison gas attack.
The 2.5 million population of Pyongyang is supposed to evacuate to subway stations in the event of a disaster — such rules remain unchanged from when I was serving in the military.
There are three layers of fire doors in each subway station entrance from the ground level to the underground level, dozens of meters deep.
It’s said that once everybody has been safely evacuated, North Korea will attack the enemy with nuclear weapons.
Personally, I doubt whether the subway stations can actually hold 2.5 million and whether these people would even be safe underground when a nuclear weapon can send tremors reaching down hundreds of meters.
Even so, people from outside of Pyongyang will be much more vulnerable if war breaks out because they don’t have any subway stations to take refuge in. Instead, each city has one or two underground tunnels.
During the Kim Il Sung era, the country strived to realize the slogan ‘modernization of the whole army, fortification of the whole army, the militarization of the whole people’ (전군현대화, 전국요새화, 전민무장화).
As a result, North Korea has tunnels for storing military supplies like emergency food and military uniforms as well as for military equipment like automobiles, cannonballs, and tanks.
In my province, Ryanggangdo, there is a tunnel where emergency rations are stored, underneath the Samsu power plant (known to be the second-largest hydro-electric power plant in Asia — no vessels or vehicles are allowed to pass through the lake in winter since it may cause the underwater tunnel to collapse).
The cities have operational tunnels that can hold up to 10% of their residents, but you won’t even find these in the rural counties.
Personally, I doubt whether the subway stations can actually hold 2.5 million
There is a two-day long resident evacuation drill that takes place in August every year. The drills are organized via your workplace.
Able-bodied people go to training in the mountains, but the elderly and disabled stay home with their doors locked from the outside.
Many North Koreans look forward to the annual drills. Even though they can’t afford as much food and alcohol as they could in the past, it’s still a fun event where they can go and enjoy nature. Those with more money arrange things like food, drinks, and gear for karaoke a few days in advance.
The empty town becomes a playground for thieves during this time.
A certain number of Ministry of State Security members and security guards from the public security station will stay behind in each village and neighborhood, but most of them aren’t motivated to do their jobs.
In fact, they’ll get their family together and host their own party in their office, funded by bribes they’ve collected from regular people.
A group of five people is chosen to support the security guards, but they’re not that effective since they’re selected from the elderly and weak left behind.
North Koreans don’t think that the threat of war or terrorism is imminent or relevant to them.
It’s possible they feel safe thanks to their indoctrination through government propaganda: the U.S. dare not wage war against the DPRK now because it is a proud nuclear state.
North Koreans are also told that the recent summits and meetings with the U.S. in Singapore, Hanoi, and Stockholm all ended in their victory, and believe there is nothing they have to fear in the future.
Translated by Jihye Park
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: Morsky Studio
Good morning, afternoon, and evening to all our NK News readers, wherever you may be in the world, and welcome to today's installment of Ask a North Korean: the feature where you ask our very own North Korean writers your questions about life on the ground in the DPRK.
Today's question comes from Richard, who asks about what policies North Korea has put in place