• Reuters

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About 100 schoolchildren and their parents were taking part in what appeared to be a clean-up outing at the elementary school in this small fishing and farming town in Abu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, when an alarm warned of an impending missile attack, causing them to evacuate to the school’s gymnasium.

The siren “rang all of a sudden while we were picking grass, so that scared me,” said Taison Ito, a 10-year-old who is in the fifth grade.

“It’s something close to our daily lives,” said Kanako Ono, one of the parents, adding that news about North Korea and missile tests is always in newspapers and on TV.

Sunday’s evacuation drill in this town of 3,500 people some 760 km west of Tokyo involved a simulated North Korean missile attack as more towns and cities take steps to brace for what they hope will never happen.

North Korea has been increasing the number of its missile test launches in recent months, launching 12 so far this year and three last month, with many splashing into the Sea of Japan, some inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which extends up to 200 miles (320 km) from its shores.

Tokyo has repeatedly condemned the test launches, which are in violation of U.N. resolutions. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government earlier this year instructed municipalities to hold evacuation drills, heightening a sense of urgency among the public.

Security experts say the drills won’t necessarily protect everyone from ballistic missiles, but going through the evacuation procedure in a simulated situation will help people survive in an actual attack.

“It’s hard to say how many people will be saved and how much effect it will have. But, with awareness raised and basic procedure understood, the survival rate will definitely be higher,” retired Vice Admiral Yoji Koda said.

To help the public prepare, the government has published on its website a list of tips in case a missile lands, such as “take shelter in a robust building nearby,” and “move away from windows or, if possible, move to a room without windows.”

It is estimated that it would take about 10 minutes for a North Korean missile to reach Japan, but it would take a few minutes for the government to alert local authorities and the public about the launch.

At Abu, school officials said the children took about three minutes to evacuate to the gymnasium.

“It was a good way to understand how to evacuate,” said Ono. “But again it didn’t feel very realistic.”

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