Raising safety awarenessThe fire in an intercity bus terminal in Goyang, Gyeonggi, northwest of Seoul that killed seven and injured more than 40 people is another dismal reality check for Korea’s safety standards. From construction oversight to evacuation, everything was as sloppy and dangerously unorganized as we witnessed in the botched rescue attempt and shameful conditions of the sunken Sewol ferry.
Police suspect the company charged with carrying out repairs at the terminal had proceeded without a permit from fire authorities. Any construction that could affect the emergency exits and fire zone must be reported to the local administration ahead of construction. The local government would then endorse the construction after it checks with fire authorities if the changes are in line with safety codes. But the company repairing the Goyang terminal is suspected of having bypassed fire inspections. Police are questioning construction workers they suspect did welding work on gas pipes without shutting off the supply or removing flammable material nearby. No construction supervisor was on site.
The aftermath was equally as disastrous. Fire shutters and sprinklers did not work on the basement floor where construction was taking place. If workers had closed off the fire equipment for convenience of construction they should have thought to reactivate them after the fire. Toxic smoke spread to other floors because the filters were not working. The Goyang terminal complex passed a safety examination just two months ago.
Fortunately, operators of discounts stores and a cinema complex within the building acted calmly and wisely during the emergency. Once they detected smoke they immediately sent out evacuation order through loudspeakers and staff escorted customers through emergency exits. Police and ambulances arrived promptly and acted quickly to move people to hospitals, helping to reduce the number of casualties. Fire and disasters can hit us at anytime. Every one of us, including companies and institutions, must be prepared.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 28, Page 30