[EDITORIALS]Sand warning of little help

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[EDITORIALS]Sand warning of little help

Scarcely two weeks ago we had the worst sandstorm in 40 years of meteorological record keeping. Monday, another one swept through, worse yet. It is the fourth attack this year of the "yellow sand," as the dusty wind containing toxic substances blown across the sea from China is known; we have had nine days of it in all. Past government response to the phenomenon was rudimentary, limited to elementary forecasts and measurements of dust particles in the air. This time, there was a new warning system, but with insufficient preparation and incompetent execution, it accomplished little.

The Ministry of Environment brought together local government officials Saturday to explain the sand warning system. But the guidelines on warnings and recommended responses were not properly communicated to the necessary organizations and the public. The warning issued for Monday was for the highest level, but responses have not been effective. There was a repeat of the confusion surrounding school closure, despite the guidelines that call for protecting children by closing schools, ending classes early or limiting outdoor activities.

The municipal government of Seoul issued a class-A warning at 1 a.m. Monday, when the level of dust particles in the air reached 1,042 micrograms per cubic meter. It then notified the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education of the warning by fax at 2:55 a.m. The dust level rose to 2,070 micrograms by 4 a.m., but the education office did not decide on a warning until 10 in the morning, when it said afternoon classes could be canceled at the discretion of school principals. Primary schools were inundated with phone calls from parents asking what to do.

Almost nothing is in place now, except through the media, to transmit warnings for sandstorms. The phenomenon has become a natural disaster that affects the health and safety of the public. A more effective channel of transmission must be secured, including airwave broadcasts, neighborhood public announcement systems and the chain of emergency communications at schools. Emergency response must be stepped up to go beyond the warnings that have failed to warn and to be able to forecast the seriousness and the course of the yellow sand when it heads our way.
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