Earthquake warning failure causes public outrage

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Earthquake warning failure causes public outrage

Outrage boiled over on Tuesday after the Ministry of Public Safety and Security’s warning system failed when the country was hit the day before with one of the most powerful earthquakes in modern history.

Two strong earthquakes struck Gyeongju, a city in North Gyeongsang, about 370 kilometers (230 miles) southeast of Seoul on Monday evening, setting off tremors across the nation. The Korea Meteorological Administration reported magnitudes of 5.1 and 5.8, while the U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitudes at 4.9 and 5.4.

The ministry’s system of sending disaster warning messages to the general public with mobile phones, however, remained silent.

The ministry said it sent the messages to residents within 120 kilometers of the epicenter. People outside the region, however, received no information.

The ministry’s internet site was also down for more than two hours after the earthquakes. The ministry posted no information on its Facebook page.

The ruling and opposition parties condemned the ministry’s response to the earthquakes. “Giving an explanation and justification to the people after they are hurt is committing a sin,” Chairman Lee Jung-hyun of the ruling Saenuri Party said Tuesday in an urgent consultation with the Park Geun-hye administration. “When earthquakes strike, the people must evacuate as soon as possible. This time, the people had to act on their own in surprise, as there was not sufficient information.”

Lee said it makes no sense for the ministry to not send messages nationwide. “Its excuse that no message was sent because Seoul is far from Gyeongju is not acceptable to the people,” he said. “The people are feeling insecure. The ministry sent heatwave warnings frequently during the summer, and I cannot understand why it didn’t do so when a serious disaster happened.”

The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea also condemned the Park administration. “Once again, the government response missed the window of opportunity,” Chairwoman Choo Mi-ae said. “The people wonder if the warning messages are random. After the tragedy of Sewol ferry’s sinking, the people changed, but not the government and its system.”

After the government’s botched rescue attempt resulted in more than 300 deaths of passengers on the ferry that sank on April 16, 2014, Park created the new ministry with the responsibility of public safety in November of that year. The National Emergency Management Agency, Korea Coast Guard and public safety departments from the Ministry of Security and Public Administration were merged in order to more effectively respond to national disasters.

After an earthquake struck Ulsan in July, Minister Park In-Yong said the public will receive warning messages when the ministry informs local governments and government offices about an earthquake. That promise, however, was not kept on Monday.

“We study everyday how to send the earthquake disaster warning messages,” said Kim Hee-gyeom, director of the disaster management at the ministry, during the Tuesday meeting with the Saenuri Party, “but Korean technology has a limit.”

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