A big fire risk

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A big fire risk

The Seoul police last week arrested the chief executive officer and engineering executives of a company specializing in fire sensors on charges of manufacturing and supplying faulty products to public facilities including cultural heritage sites. They have been accused of selling 2,300 defective fire sensors worth 19 billion won ($18.5 million) from 2006. The faulty products were installed in national treasures like Sungnyemun Gate, or Namdaemun, and Gyeongbok Palace; key public facilities like the National Assembly and government headquarters building in downtown Seoul; and nuclear reactors across the country. The company deceived regulators by presenting properly working sensors for license testing by the Korea Fire Institute while providing low-quality ones for the actual orders.

But replacing the sensors has become the responsibility of the cheated victims. Upon learning about the problem from the police, the fire authorities ordered local departments to reexamine facilities and make orders for replacements. They mentioned nothing about the cost, which means it would be up to the customers to finance the cost of replacements. Victims can sue for damages from the company but it will take years before they receive any payback. It is also unclear whether the company - already near bankruptcy following the news of the police investigation - would be in any state to compensate the customers for their losses.

Fire regulators are also to be blamed. They naively approved the sensors based on test samples presented by the company and did not check up on the sensors that were actually delivered. The faulty part suppliers found guilty of fabricating documents to seek permits for supplies to nuclear reactors also got away with his scam because regulators were overly lenient. If the fire testing authority had checked random samples instead of simply believing in the supplier, the company could never have gone on with the scheme for so long.

It’s scary to imagine what could had happened if fires erupted in national treasures and major buildings with faulty fire systems. If authorities are let off the hook, corporate cheats won’t stop. The government should overhaul the entire public safety supervisory system. Authorities should conduct unannounced safety tests and examinations around the year so that manufacturers simply cannot dare to cheat the nation and its people.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 6, Page 26

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