Concerns Remain about Japan’s Emergency Warning System

The importance of the Japanese government’s information gathering and communications to the public has been increasing amid North Korea’s repeated launches of ballistic missiles toward Japan. Following Pyongyang’s latest missile launch, the government should reconfirm whether there are deficiencies in the nation’s information gathering and communication systems.

On April 13, North Korea launched a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. The missile was fired on a lofted trajectory at a higher angle than usual and landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Some people with the South Korean military are said to believe that it was a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile.

It was the 12th time North Korea has conducted missile launches this year. Pyongyang’s dangerous military provocations, which threaten the stability of the region and the world, are absolutely unacceptable.

Japan, the United States and South Korea were to hold a working-level defense meeting in Washington on April 14 to discuss issues including a system for swiftly sharing information related to North Korean missiles. Taking into account the improvement in Japan-South Korea relations, further progress must be made in defense cooperation among the three countries.

The Japanese government’s response to the latest missile launch created confusion.

About 30 minutes after the launch, the government triggered the J-Alert, an early warning system that transmits emergency information nationwide, urging residents to evacuate because a missile was predicted to fall in the vicinity of Hokkaido. However, the missile did not land in the area.

The initial alert was subsequently lifted and the government transmitted a message stating, “We have confirmed that there is no longer a possibility of a missile falling [in the area], so we are issuing a correction.”

However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno explained that the government did not correct the initial information, but provided new information in response to its analysis of the situation. Despite his response, many people might not be entirely convinced by the government’s explanation.

It is certainly difficult to accurately predict the flight path and landing location of missiles. A situation must be avoided in which an alert is delayed because of fears that it could end up in a false warning.

The problem is that there has been no detailed explanation from the government as to what information the initial warning was based on and why it was corrected.

The latest missile disappeared from radar shortly after Japan detected it, according to the government. Was the government’s decision to issue the warning appropriate when the missile could not be tracked? And were there problems in the detecting of the missile or in the sharing of information with Washington and Seoul? Such issues must be addressed.

In the past, concerns have been raised regarding the accuracy of J-Alert information and the promptness of communications. For example, messages have been sent erroneously to areas outside warning areas. The government is working on improvements of the system, with the aim of putting a revamped system into operation by summer at the earliest.

A system that provides information the public can trust and use to evacuate smoothly in an emergency is needed.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 14, 2023)