Nothing has changedWe are utterly frustrated by a brutal spate of accidents, from the tragic sinking of the Sewol in April, to the fatal inferno at Goyang Bus Terminal and the crash of a subway car on line No. 2 at Sindang Station in May, to the Friday deaths of 16 spectators when the ventilation grate they were standing on collapsed at a K-pop concert in Pangyo, Gyeonggi.
Whenever disasters occur, our government, experts and pundits habitually put the blame on a critical lack of safety awareness in our society and demand that we drastically reinforce our safety system. But nothing has changed. The government tried to promote its quick response to what happened in Pangyo by stressing that Prime Minister Chung Hong-won rushed to the scene immediately after the accident and held an emergency meeting to deal with it.
But that’s nothing more than the result of a lesson learned from the Sewol tragedy, not proof of the government having a higher level of safety awareness. What matters is not how the government reacts to a disaster after it has occurred, but how hard it tries to prevent such calamities.
The K-pop performance is no exception. Even though hundreds of people were expected to gather, there were no personnel charged with public safety at the site. As only large-scale performances attended by more than 3,000 people are required to deploy safety staff, the host of the performance broke no laws.
But no warning signs were posted around the ventilation hole, which is 18 meters (about 60 feet) deep. Even while digging such a dangerous hole at the center of the city, no support fixtures had been installed. Though accidents increasingly take people’s lives each year, there really has been no awakening. Our society’s safety regulations are simply too parlous to adequately protect the public.
Public safety cannot be achieved through rhetoric alone. It calls for funding and thorough public education. But authorities have been backpedaling on the issue, as seen in the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s slashing of budgets for the safety of urban areas and school zones by 15 percent over the past two years, and 15 percent cuts for the past three years in budgets to heighten the safety of nuclear power plants.
Government expenditures on safety management are invisible as they are an investment against potential risks. But if the authorities don’t invest now, they cannot avoid massive man-made disasters down the road. We must not repeat the mistake of mending the barn after the horse is stolen.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 20, Page 34