“We were scared in the beginning,” Francesca Bettrone, a long-track speedskater from Italy, said. “I still don’t know what they say.”
There have been at least 14 emergency alerts sent to cellphones over the past week, and those around the Olympic Park here received eight separate, bleating alerts on Wednesday alone.
After the fifth or sixth alert on Wednesday (it was easy to lose count), a couple of strangers waiting in line for food at the speedskating arena began trading tips on how to alter the settings on their iPhones to block the emergency notifications.
They could have simply followed the lead of Marten Liiv, a speedskater from Jogeva, Estonia, who never purchased an international data plan for his phone.
“I’ve heard all about them, but I don’t get them,” Liiv said with a shrug. “I’m lucky, maybe.”
An email to the Pyeongchang Olympics Organizing Committee seeking a response to whether they had planned for the stir the alerts have caused was not immediately answered.
It hasn’t helped that phone alerts, and the prospective scary message they could be carrying, had been on people’s minds after a mistaken text alert last month in Hawaii about an inbound ballistic missile.
With nuclear tension related to North Korea still running high on the peninsula, some athletes said the emergency notifications had sent their imaginations into overdrive.
“It was a little bit like, What is this?” Thomas Ulsrud, a Norwegian curler, said about an alert he received this week in the athletes’ village. “We’re in the same building as the North Koreans, so it was like, What is going on here now?”
The emergency alerts sent on Wednesday warned of extreme winds in the area and the possibility of forest fires.
Those arriving early for the Olympics received alerts about the cold and the smoke from an isolated fire in Gangneung, where several events are held.
Some athletes remained calm at first about the jarring alerts — until they started interrupting their sleep.
“It woke me up, and I didn’t know what it was, so my phone got thrown across the floor,” said Peter Michael, 28, a speedskater from Wellington, New Zealand. Michael said he waited to hear if there was a fire alarm or something else to indicate what was going on. Moments later, he went back to sleep. “I figure if it’s something really bad, someone can come get me,” he said.
Just past 5 a.m. on Sunday, phones blared simultaneously around the athletes’ accommodations as people were informed about an earthquake that had occurred about 100 miles from Pyeongchang.
“I was sleeping, and I thought, Why is this keeping me awake?” Bart Swings, a Belgian speedskater, said with a mock sigh. “First, I can’t read it. Second, my phone was on silent. But apparently that doesn’t matter.”
“The alarms have useful information,” Swings added, “but maybe they should put it also in English during the Olympics.”
Now somewhat desensitized to the alerts, athletes have resorted to simply hoping that someone will tell them if there is an emergency.
Nina Roth, a curler from McFarland, Wis., said the United States team’s security official had been handling inquiries about the alerts from concerned, or simply curious, athletes.
“She assured us that if it was anything that was an actual issue, she’d let us know,” Roth said.
Spectators at a competition last weekend puzzled over the texts.
“It’s all in Korean — as, you know, it should be,” Julie Morreali, visiting from Sycamore, Ill., said with a laugh. “We got one in the middle of the night, and we didn’t know what it was. You hope for the best. I mean, what are we going to do? We can’t talk to anyone.”
Her friend Jen Mendigutia of San Diego nodded in agreement. “I should have learned more Korean before I got here,” she said.