A new day, a new thing

My goal to learn something new every day

Day 6: Just what is this sign?

Since starting this blog almost a week ago, I’ve constantly been on the lookout for new things to learn about. So today’s post is about something I’ve probably seen every day for the last 7 years. It appears on the side of buildings, at subway station entrances and even at the top of the ramp to the parking lot in my apartment complex. I’d never given it much thought until today, it was just part of the landscape.

I’m talking about a red sign with a white circle that has what appears to be a house with three different coloured roofs.


To me, it kind of looks like the sign you might see on the outside of a hotel or restaurant to show that it is part of some sort of tourist association.

As it turns out, the Korean writing at the bottom of the sign (대피소 Daepiso) translates into shelter. A quick Google search of the Korean term brought up this Korean website. A brief description on the site says (with translation courtesy of Google translate):

비상시에 대피할 수 있도록 만들어 놓은 곳.

Where had made to evacuate in an emergency.

And a little further down the page this:

적의 무력침공이나 자연재난으로부터 국민의 생명과 재산을 지키기 위해 구성된 일련의 조직적인 민간 방위 활동.

Enemy armed invasion or a series of organized civil defense activities configured to protect the lives and property of citizens from natural disasters

So the sign designates a shelter that is meant to be used during an invasion, civil defense drill* or natural disaster. As the Western media are always quick to point out whenever North Korea threatens to do something, the Korean war ended with an armistice agreement and not a peace treaty, which means the two Koreas are still technically at war.

While most Koreans generally ignore the rhetoric coming from the North, there have been a couple of incidents in the time that I’ve been here, including the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on November 23 2010. It is around this time that a few articles popped up on the internet about these shelters.

According to this one on freerepublic.com, there are around 25,000 such shelters across South Korea. And this article from NDTV.com says that people should be able to reach a shelter within 5 minutes.

The National Emergency Management Agency of Korea has even made an app called ‘for foreigners Emergency Ready App’, which you can read more about in this pdf. The app allows users to search for the nearest shelter, and call 119 (the Korean emergency number) ‘without delay’, although I imagine that dialling 119 would be quicker than starting up the app and navigating to the call button.

While I don’t expect the North to ever do anything, at least I’ll know where to go now 😉 Although I’m not sure how safe the underground parking lot where I live would be, it’s barely one floor below ground and totally open at the entrance.


*Civil defense drills happen 8 times a year, and are when all traffic is supposed to stop, and people are supposed to stay inside until the end of the drill.

6 comments on “Day 6: Just what is this sign?

  1. Anthony Ash
    January 7, 2015

    Are the drills so they can practise in case of an attack from the north?


    • David Harbinson
      January 7, 2015

      Yes, that’s what they’re for. Sometimes they last 5 minutes, and other times longer, up to around 20 minutes. I’m often at work when they happen, and there’s a really loud siren that comes on over the loudspeaker that makes it impossible to teach.

      I’m not sure if traffic is supposed to stop completely every time, I’ve only seen it happen a handful of times. Just after the attack in 2010, they took it really seriously, but it seems to be a bit more relaxed again now. I’m in Daegu, which is quite far south so I don’t know what it’s like up in Seoul or nearer the North.


      • timothyhampson
        January 11, 2015

        This totally freaked me out, it happened in my second week here and no one told me there would be drills.


      • David Harbinson
        January 11, 2015

        I remember the first time I heard it too. I was in class and I said to the students: “should we do something?” and they just laughed and carried on like normal.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. livinglearning
    January 7, 2015

    Those signs are also at all the beaches along the coast in case of tsunami. I never noticed them in Daegu, but I guess they refer to shelter from all kinds of disaster. The signs usually lead toward big places to gather inland – like churches and such.


    • David Harbinson
      January 7, 2015

      Thanks Anne. Yeah from what I found there was a little bit of a reference to natural disasters, but not that much. So it’s good to know that it’s for all types of emergency. I found a few images of them above the entrances to subways on Google, and some of them even have the word ‘Shelter’ written in English, but I’m not sure I’ve seen the English in Daegu. I’ll have to keep a look out.

      I know that when I’ve been hiking in some of the mountains, they have signs to emergency shelters, but these are for people who become stranded on the mountains. I believe that these are also called 대피소, but I’m pretty sure the red sign is not used for these.

      Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on January 6, 2015 by in Korea and tagged , , , .


January 2015

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