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Situation Report
Korean Peninsula
LAST UPDATED: 9/26/2017 7:00 AM (Pacific Daylight Time)
Impacted UCEAP Study Center(s): Study Center, Korea and Study Center, Japan
Location(s): Seoul and Tokyo
Approx. time difference with PDT: Add 17 hours

Sources used to produce this report:  iJET International, Stratfor Global Intelligence, open source world media reporting, OSAC (U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council), Foreign Policy​, FCO/UK, Voyage Canada
University of California Education Abroad Program considers the health, safety and security of UCEAP participants seriously and provides reliable and timely information to help students make well-informed decisions regarding their health and personal safety abroad.

September 26
It is unlikely that North Korea actually intends to shoot down a US aircraft.

Despite the sharply escalating rhetoric, a full-scale war would likely be devastating for the US, its allies, and especially North Korea. Technically, both sides remain in a state of war, with the conflict frozen by a more than six-decades-long armistice agreement. North Korea has called on the US to negotiate a lasting peace treaty, but the US says North Korea must denuclearize before talks can begin. The threat of an accidental escalation into full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula has persisted since the 1953 armistice. Business in the region largely continues as usual.

September 6
The U.S. Embassy in Seoul continues to engage in its routine course of business.  There has been no change to their staffing level, activities, or the guidance routinely provided to U.S. citizens in Korea. Personal security and emergency preparedness is a continuous process. U.S. citizens and family members must take an active role in reviewing their personal security and emergency preparedness.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula can escalate with little notice. They may increase before, during and after North Korean nuclear and missile tests, military exercises or as the result of incidents or military activities at or near the inter-Korean border.

Despite statements issued by the North Korean government, the USG continues to advise that there is no immediate threat to U.S. Citizens in South Korea. Tensions could escalate with little warning and the security situation could deteriorate suddenly.

September 4
North Korean state media announced that Pyongyang successfully conducted a hydrogen bomb test at the Punggye-ri underground test site in the northeastern region of the country.

The confirmation came hours after the US Geological Survey (USGS) registered a strong magnitude-6.3 explosion probably triggered by a nuclear test due to the fact that it occurred close to the surface at precisely 1200 PYT (1230 KST).

International monitoring agencies have not yet publicized any evidence that radioactive xenon and/or other noble gases have been released, although they will probably be able to detect evidence of a nuclear blast in the days ahead. Health risks to people in South Korea, Japan, and other neighboring countries will likely be remote unless satellite observations detect a major containment breach at the Punggye-ri facility. Weather conditions were rainy and winds were light out of the southeast at the time of the tremor. Any radioactive release into the air would probably not be dispersed toward Japan or South Korea before September 4.

This is sixth test of a nuclear device by North Korea since 2006 sparking widespread international condemnation - and an emergency session of the UN Security Council on September 4.

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea immediately called an emergency meeting of his National Security Council in response to the test. The test will likely lead to a further escalation of already high tensions between Pyongyang and South Korea and the US. South Korean and US forces may be put on heightened alert status, and municipal authorities could conduct air raid drills in Seoul and other parts of the country in the days or weeks ahead.

The level of tension and the security situation can change with little notice. Tensions usually rise around the time of the regular South Korean-US military exercises, notably those held in March and August.

There remains a threat of further missile or nuclear tests, which could lead to further instability in the region. In the past, these haven’t affected daily life.

Civil emergency exercises and advice
The South Korean authorities sometimes hold civil emergency exercises. Sirens are sounded, transport stopped and some people are asked to take shelter indoors, including in designated metro stations or basements. Shelters in Seoul are marked with a special symbol. Participation by foreign nationals in these exercises isn’t obligatory but you should follow any instructions by local authorities during any exercises.

Advice to UCEAP Students
  • Stay in contact with your families in the U.S. and keep them informed about your welfare.
  • Stay in contact with the UCEAP Korea Study Center and talk to staff and faculty about any concerns.
  • Carry emergency contact information at all times.
  • Be vigilant.
  • Monitor developments and follow the advice of local authorities.
    Familiarize yourself with local emergency preparedness plans.
  • Register online with the U.S. State Department Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). In the event of an actual emergency, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul will relay specific instructions to the circumstances of the event. 
  • The South Korean government has developed a smartphone application with civil emergency advice, including shelter locations, different types of alarms, medical facilities and emergency services. Search for ‘emergency ready app’ on Android or Apple app stores.
  • Download the AFN 360 app that is available for smart phones. The application is free, and will allow anyone in Korea access to all of the available AFN radio stations in the Pacific Region. All AFN stations in Korea can be listened to real-time via smartphone or on a computer with internet connection. During any crises or contingency, listeners will be able to get up to the minute information. From your computer, access, click on the AFN 360 link, and choose a desired stream from the menu. On a mobile device, download the AFN Pacific Mobile App for iPhone or Android devices. For Apple products, go to the App Store and search for AFN Pacific; for Android, go to Google Play and search for AFN Pacific.
U.S. Embassy Resources
UCEAP Contingency Plans 
If any local situation requires increased caution or a program suspension and evacuation of participants, UCEAP will activate contingency plans. For security reasons, contingency plans are not public and cannot be shared with anyone except UCEAP officials.

All sources of information are corroborated before distribution. If there is any important information about security or updates, UCEAP will publish it on this website. University of California Education Abroad Program considers the health, safety and security of UCEAP participants seriously and provides reliable and timely information to help students make informed decisions regarding their health and personal safety abroad.

UCEAP International Health and Safety Protocols

The University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) strives to promote a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff, and to offer reliable information on health precautions and potential risks that students should consider when studying and traveling abroad. Safety on UCEAP is a shared responsibility and requires students to be well-informed and active participants in their own well-being overseas.

UCEAP provides students with health and safety information through pre-departure and onsite orientations and online pre-departure documentation so students and parents can enhance their own research with updated information. Also, experienced staff in California and abroad are ready to answer questions from students and their parents.
The UCEAP International Health, Safety, and Emergency Response (IHS&ER) Unit is dedicated to international health and safety related to UCEAP programming around the world. IHS&ER in California and the UC Study Center and partners abroad monitor worldwide events daily and strive for timely reporting accuracy. During an emergency, a response team in California and abroad will coordinate a response.  Depending on the nature of the emergency, contingency plans are in place.
UCEAP works closely with UCEAP staff, faculty and partners abroad, UC emergency assistance providers, the U.S. Government, international organizations, NGOs, and other US institutions of higher education with students in the country, to share critical security and health information, monitor threats, reassess plans and strategies, and coordinate communication. UCEAP also partners with local UCEAP faculty and staff, and host country officials to coordinate the safe evacuation of students when necessary.
In the event of an emergency, UCEAP will trigger its emergency response protocol, which define lines of communication, resources and responses to emergency situations overseas and partners with local UCEAP faculty, staff, its partners, and host country officials to coordinate emergency planning and response.
The University of California Office of the President, Risk Services has contracted with the following travel assistance and insurance providers: iJET Intelligent Risk Systems, United Healthcare Global (UHCG), and CHUBB USA. iJET and UHCG provide worldwide assistance to UCEAP travelers during emergency situations. iJET provides real time intelligence and travel alerts designed to keep all UC travelers informed throughout their trip.  All UCEAP students are automatically registered with iJET to receive travel information and alerts for their destination.

UCEAP Emergency Contingency Plans

University of California Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) operates an emergency response system in line with its international security provider based on four security levels to categorize the situation in a given country, or location, depending on the risk to individual students, or the group of students and faculty.  It also follows a four-phased approach in response to relocation or evacuation triggers. Certain situations may call for an expedited response moving quickly through all four phases or moving directly to the third or fourth phase, but the intent would remain the same; a set approach is followed. The need to safely relocate or evacuate students and faculty often happens in an atmosphere of crisis and chaos so preparedness is crucial for UCEAP to be able to respond effectively and quickly to a changing security situation.
UCEAP will relocate or evacuate students and faculty from a location to ensure they are not exposed to unnecessary risks.  A reasonable and informed decision is taken before anyone is put in danger. Situations can deteriorate rapidly and media attention with 24-hour reporting (at times uncorroborated) make effective decision-making more complex. Pre-defined  tripwires will prompt a series of actions.  The decision to relocate or evacuate is never easy. Some students will want to remain or feel that UCEAP is overreacting, or acting too cautiously. The decision will be taken by members of the UCEAP Crisis Management Team and the local UCEAP Centers and/or partner institutions working with University of California security providers and UC Office of the President Risk Services. ​​​​​