Air raid drill held in Ryanggang Province on October 19

Photo overlooking Hyesan, Ryanggang Province taken in August 2018. Image: Daily NK

The entire province of Ryanggang conducted an air raid drill on October 19. The drill was managed by the Security Department of the Ministry of People’s Security and was similar to the military reserve and civil defense training operations that occur in South Korea.

The air raid drills are conducted twice each year over the course of one day and two nights. Ryanggang Province generally conducts its drills in August and September. The Pyongyang summit and the visit of the two Korean leaders to Mt. Paektu on the summit’s final day delayed the drill until October, multiple sources in North Korea have reported.

“All residents of the province took part in the wide-scale drill, with the exception of some farmers. At 8 AM, all residents were required to head to military camps and shelters that had been assigned to the members of each enterprise, farm and inminban (people’s unit, a type of neighborhood watch). The drill ended at 6 PM,” said a source in Ryanggang Province on October 22.

“There was an order that no person was allowed to be wandering around during the course of the drill. Local farms that are at the height of the harvest season were forced to finish their work quickly.”

When a drill begins, Worker Red Guards (paramiltary force with older members and North Korea’s largest civil defense force) and Red Youth Brigades (paramilitary force comprising younger members) put on military fatigues and head to military camps to stage a defense exercise against an imagined enemy. All civilians are required to move to the shelters and all movement by foot or by car along with all business activities are prohibited.

Military camp exercises were held in Kanggu-dong (neighborhood), Songbong-dong, and Hwajon-dong, all of which are hilly areas in Hyesan.

North Korea strictly manages its military exercises in accordance with wartime protocols through the use of cable radio transmissions, but those civilians who are exempt from the exercises can enjoy the day off.

“Some people tried to call Pyongyang or Chongjin by mobile phone but they couldn’t get through,” the source said, adding that “nobody called them, either,” suggesting that the authorities likely shut down the mobile network during the drill.

Local police have mobilized elderly citizens in each inminban to patrol the streets following a rise in burglaries when people leave their houses during the drills.  

An additional source in Ryanggang Province reported, “An official from the Ministry of People’s Security (police) said that the air raid drill was delayed this year because of the South Korean presidential entourage’s visit to Mt. Paektu. Local residents thought that maybe the drill wasn’t going to be held this year, but they were wrong.”

“The weather in mid-October was really cold so the local district offices ensured that children and elderly people gathered in shelters that had heat,” he explained.

“The shelters gave out special food and allowed people to sleep, so some people thought of it as just a day off.”

*Daily NK’s Ha Yoon Ah also contributed reporting.