Actions speak louder than wordsPresident Park Geun-hye gave an outline yesterday for a new national disaster management system that involves the dissolution of the Korea Coast Guard, which exposed many loopholes before and after the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry. She also promised a full-fledged reshaping of the Ministry of Security and Public Administration.
Instead, the government will establish a new disaster control authority informally known as the national safety agency. The Coast Guard’s lethargic response to the country’s worst maritime disaster and the ministry’s chronic red tape called for a massive reform of the maritime police. We welcome the administration’s approach to national disasters.
The Coast Guard originated with the maritime police battalion in 1953 under the security bureau in the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs. A strong need for rescue and salvage operations at sea arose after the 1993 Seohae ferry tragedy took the lives of 292 passengers. Three years later, the maritime police then became a separate organization from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries. Since then, its status, budget and size have grown remarkably. Meanwhile, the Park administration reinforced the function of security and safety in the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, as seen in its name reversal to the Ministry of Security and Public Administration. It is a natural outcome, because the two government bodies failed to play their basic role of protecting public safety.
The task of the Coast Guard is divided into three categories: investigation and intelligence; rescue and salvage; and safeguarding maritime security. According to the president’s plan, the investigation and intelligence functions will be shifted to the police, while the rest of the functions will be transferred to the new national safety agency. In that case, the rescue and salvage work can be enhanced. But if cooperation between the police and the agency is not smooth, it could backfire. The government must come up with realistic ways to fill the expected vacuum from the dissolution of the Coast Guard. At the same time, the revamp must not hamper ongoing search efforts on the Sewol ferry.
The establishment of a disaster authority is necessary. The president must offer substantial power to the new agency so it can effectively command public safety-related agencies in times of crisis. The new agency must also hire civilian experts to enhance its efficiency. Reforming the nation’s disaster management system is a crucial step toward a safer nation, but the system alone can’t ensure it. As always, actions speak louder than words.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 20, Page 30