Disaster management neededA joint government-private sector team will be formed to avert the potential drifting away of bodies of the victims from the sunken Sewol ferry by mobilizing helicopters and ships from the two sectors. The government has also started to provide one-on-one administrative services for the victims’ families by assigning one civil servant to each family. It is also considering establishing a medical center to provide psychiatric care to the families of the victims.
It would have been much better if the government had responded to the tragedy with such coordination from the outset. Prime Minister Chung Hong-won tendered his resignation to President Park Geun-hye to take responsibility for the muddled reaction, as seen in the endless flip-flops in the numbers of survivors, dead or missing released to the public. The Coast Guard also lost precious minutes needed for the rescuing of passengers still trapped inside the tilted ship.
We didn’t see smooth cooperation between the public and private sectors, either. Many volunteers were turned away due to confusion in the makeshift camp inside of Jindo Gymnasium. A brawl between civilian divers and the Coast Guard also hampered rescue operations.
The role of the Blue House and the military was harshly criticized. A spokesman from the presidential office said that the National Security Office was not responsible for handling disasters, before being overwhelmed by public outrage. Military facilities in the waters off Jindo could not react to the emergency from the start due to a lack of communication with the Coast Guard.
No matter what kind of disaster arises, the government needs to approach it in a coordinated manner with the full participation of the private sector. Governance is about public administration integrating the public and civilian sectors, not merely handing down directions from the top.
There is a growing consensus that the government failed to deal with the unprecedented disaster. Now the question is whether to establish a separate ministry aimed at dealing with massive disasters or extend the functions of the National Security Council. We believe it would be better to set up a new “control tower” to take charge of disasters and public safety - separate from national security in military terms - under the office of the president or prime minister. We have to establish a reliable, effective and coordinated system combining the government, civilian and military sectors to prepare for other disasters in the future.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 29, Page 26