Give safety a chanceSouth Korea is an exemplary risk society, declared German sociologist Uleich Bech, who was first to coin the term during his visit to Korea. Staggeringly rapid economic progress, advanced technologies and a miraculous social transition with a backdrop of the world’s most heavily armed border with North Korea makes the country a potential danger zone. To keep risks and hazards at bay, society must be extra vigilant in safety standards in all areas. Without placing safety first in public policies, corporate and everyday practices, colossal human-error tragedies like the Sewol ferry sinking could happen any day. The government must keep public safety and security on its basic agenda. President Park Geun-hye declared building a “creative economy” was the top priority for her five-year administration. Social safety was cited, but not as one of the key policies. In her second year she announced a three-year roadmap to bring innovation to the economy. In order to transform society from a risky to a safe one, the government must set a new direction toward a “united and safe society” and draw up concrete action plans. The government must map out a mid-term plan to enhance safety levels of society through organized and lasting steps.
While the government works on building the legal grounds, the corporate community and civil sector must participate in a pan-national campaign to reorient and redesign our country as a risk-proof society. After bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013, schools in the community sent letters to parents advising them not to let children watch the bloody scenes on TV. They were told to talk to their children and describe how they can help the victims and families. On our side, one local school gave an assignment for students to write up a paper on their thoughts after watching the developments of the Sewol crisis. In its coverage, CNN provided a contrast to the hyper-emotional reporting of our broadcasters.
The sloppy shipping practices were also a harsh reality check for us. Japan doesn’t allow the sailing of any passenger ferries unless they fully comply with regulations. Overloading of passengers and cargo hasn’t changed in the 21 years ago since the car ferry Seohae sank off the southwestern coast of North Jeolla killing 292. In economic terms, South Korea is in the top ranks. Our nation has run headlong toward the goal of becoming wealthy for half a century. But we turned a blind eyes to the goal of being a civilized and safe society. Now is the time.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 26, Page 26