What crisis management?The mix-up in numbers from the scene of the tragedy off Jindo, South Jeolla, as well as contradictory announcements about the progress of the search and rescue mission by government institutions, aggravated the anguish felt by families waiting for news about loved ones missing after the Sewol capsized off the southern coast Wednesday with 476 people on board. The repeated mistakes worsened the families’ complaints and heightened distrust of authorities. Some family members demanded to meet the president, so frustrated were they by the slow progress in the search.
Authorities claimed they mobilized all military and civilian resources to search for hundreds of people - more than two thirds of them students from Danwon High School on their way to Jeju for a four-day school trip - still missing from the 6,825-ton capsized ferry. The government again underscored that it lacks ability in times of crisis.
Soon after the accident was reported, the Ministry of Security and Public Administration launched an emergency headquarters. After several mix-ups in tallies and announcements from several disaster authorities - the Security Ministry, Coast Guard, Navy and Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries - the prime minister arrived on the scene and organized a government team to issue statements through a single route.
Government agencies and institutions must play different roles according to the character of disasters. Administrative networking is crucial to combat natural disasters like floods. The Ministry of Security and Public Administration is best qualified to command. But a crisis like a ferry sinking is different. Search and rescue work must take place immediately. The Coast Guard should have been put in command. The prime minister heads the central disaster management headquarters. In accidents like this, the prime minister should have placed the Coast Guard as the central command with other ministries and military organizations made to assist in the rescue. We may have seen a quicker and more organized response to the disaster if such arrangements were quickly made.
The ruling party is proposing to establish a new government emergency management agency for responses to disasters. Creating a new government organization won’t solve anything. If government agencies used the current regulations and resources well, they could have responded more effectively. Instead of wasting time fighting over new regulations, the government should do all it can to sharpen its responsiveness to emergencies.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 21, Page 30