Noth­ing has changed

JoongAng Daily - - Views -

We are ut­terly frus­trated by a bru­tal spate of ac­ci­dents, from the tragic sink­ing of the Se­wol in April, to the fa­tal in­ferno at Goyang Bus Ter­mi­nal and the crash of a sub­way car on line No. 2 at Sin­dang Sta­tion in May, to the Fri­day deaths of 16 spec­ta­tors when the ven­ti­la­tion grate they were stand­ing on col­lapsed at a K-pop con­cert in Pangyo, Gyeonggi.

When­ever dis­as­ters oc­cur, our gov­ern­ment, ex­perts and pun­dits ha­bit­u­ally put the blame on a crit­i­cal lack of safety aware­ness in our so­ci­ety and de­mand that we dras­ti­cally re­in­force our safety sys­tem. But noth­ing has changed. The gov­ern­ment tried to pro­mote its quick re­sponse to what hap­pened in Pangyo by stress­ing that Prime Min­is­ter Chung Hong-won rushed to the scene im­me­di­ately after the ac­ci­dent and held an emer­gency meet­ing to deal with it.

But that’s noth­ing more than the re­sult of a les­son learned from the Se­wol tragedy, not proof of the gov­ern­ment hav­ing a higher level of safety aware­ness. What mat­ters is not how the gov­ern­ment re­acts to a dis­as­ter after it has oc­curred, but how hard it tries to pre­vent such calami­ties.

The K-pop per­for­mance is no ex­cep­tion. Even though hun­dreds of peo­ple were ex­pected to gather, there were no per­son­nel charged with pub­lic safety at the site. As only large-scale per­for­mances at­tend- ed by more than 3,000 peo­ple are re­quired to de­ploy safety staff, the host of the per­for­mance broke no laws.

But no warn­ing signs were posted around the ven­ti­la­tion hole, which is 18 me­ters (about 60 feet) deep. Even while dig­ging such a dan­ger­ous hole at the cen­ter of the city, no support fix­tures had been in­stalled. Though ac­ci­dents in­creas­ingly take peo­ple’s lives each year, there re­ally has been no awak­en­ing. Our so­ci­ety’s safety reg­u­la­tions are sim­ply too par­lous to ad­e­quately pro­tect the pub­lic.

Pub­lic safety can­not be achieved through rhetoric alone. It calls for fund­ing and thor­ough pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. But au­thor­i­ties have been backpedal­ing on the is­sue, as seen in the Seoul Met­ro­pol­i­tan Gov­ern­ment’s slash­ing of bud­gets for the safety of ur­ban ar­eas and school zones by 15 per­cent over the past two years, and 15 per­cent cuts for the past three years in bud­gets to heighten the safety of nu­clear power plants.

Gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­tures on safety man­age­ment are in­vis­i­ble as they are an in­vest­ment against po­ten­tial risks. But if the au­thor­i­ties don’t invest now, they can­not avoid mas­sive man-made dis­as­ters down the road. We must not re­peat the mis­take of mend­ing the barn after the horse is stolen.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 20, Page 34

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