SEOUL, May 31 (Korea Bizwire) — The Seoul city government on Wednesday erroneously sent out an emergency alert advising citizens to prepare for evacuation after North Korea’s launch of what appeared to be a space launch vehicle.
The mobile phone alert was sent to all citizens at 6:41 a.m., shortly after the Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea fired what appeared to be a space launch vehicle. But the interior ministry retracted it at 7:03 a.m., saying the alert was sent by mistake.
“We inform that the alert warning issued by the Seoul Metropolitan City at 6:41 a.m. was an erroneous issuance,” the interior ministry said in a separate mobile phone alert.
A ministry official said that Seoul is not an area where an alert has been issued.
The city government said it sent out the alert after receiving notification from the interior ministry about the North’s rocket launch.
“It was an emergency action taken against the possibility of a crisis that can have an impact on the lives and the safety of citizens while the level of risks of the North Korean projectile was yet to be identified,” an official said.
Still, the city came under fire as the alert came too late and did not specify what was happening.
In the alert, the city only said, “An alert warning issued for Seoul. People are advised to prepare for evacuation with priority given to children and those old and weak,” without providing information on what was going on.
The alert also came nine minutes after the city received notification from the ministry.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon apologized for “causing confusion” but insisted the alert was not a mistake.
“The alert was issued upon the judgment that an immediate action is needed in the situation where North Korea fired (a projectile) southwards this time” unlike in the past when it usually fired them toward the East Sea, Oh said in a press briefing.
“The emergency message could be the result of an overreaction by working-level officials, but my judgment is that it was not an erroneous issuance,” he said.
“There can be no compromise on safety, and our principle is to respond in a manner that can be seen as excessive.”
The interior ministry separately sent out an emergency alert to residents of Baengnyeong Island and Daecheong Island, near the western Northern Limit Line separating the two Koreas, advising islanders to evacuate.
Sirens sounded for over 20 minutes in Baengnyeong areas and an evacuation advisory was broadcasted across the region, according to residents.
A township office in Baengnyeong told Yonhap News Agency, “The doors of some 20 shelters were opened up, and many residents took refuge.”
The North has notified Japan and the International Maritime Organization of its plan to launch a satellite between May 31 and June 11.
The early-morning mishap by the Seoul city government threw many residents off guard.
“After getting the emergency message to evacuate, I woke my child. Then another message came that it was a mistake and I was bewildered,” a 46-year-old resident, surnamed Kim, told Yonhap News Agency.
“I couldn’t arrive at work on time because I had to soothe my frustrated child.”
Another resident, surnamed Lee, said the alert message at the early morning commute time left him torn between going to work and evacuating.
“Checking the situation on the TV, I had tens of thousands of thoughts about what to do and whether I had to go to work,” he said. “It’s totally ridiculous.”
The mobile version of Naver, the biggest internet portal in South Korea, briefly went down after the North Korean launch as a wave of people went online for information.