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A magnitude 4.5 earthquake hit Gyeongju City on Monday following the magnitude 5.8 earthquake six days earlier. The second quake was the strongest of more than 400 aftershocks since Sept. 13. Koreans are increasingly haunted by the fear of earthquakes.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Public Safety and Security (MPSS) is rapidly losing pubic trust. Its internet homepage was shut down for two hours after the quake and it even sent emergency text messages to Gyeongju citizens five and eight minutes after the original shocks. It took 14 minutes to send messages to residents in nearby areas, including Busan and Daegu. That kind of protraction can cost many lives in an emergency. We are dumbfounded by the unfathomable malfunctioning of the ministry’s website at such a critical moment.

MPSS did not change at all even after it was harshly criticized for the same shutdown of its homepage and its belated sending of warnings last Tuesday. We wonder if the ministry is really aware of the seriousness of the issue. Is it due to lax discipline inside the ministry or what?

MPSS was established after the tragic Sewol ferry sinking in 2014 to reinforce public safety after dismantling the Korea Coast Guard and integrating safety-related agencies. But it is now under fire for its colossal loss of public confidence. The government must come up with a drastic plan to revamp the ministry in crisis.

The government first must strengthen measures to tackle disasters that result from earthquakes. It must pay heed to the frequent quakes in the Gyeongju area which is close to active faults in Yangsan and Ulsan, where a number of nuclear reactors and toxic material plants are located. Above all, the government must figure out what areas are most vulnerable to earthquakes by conducting precise geological examinations across the country.

The government has to secure an effective system to quickly respond to earthquakes by taking advantage of our advanced IT technology and Big Data. It must elevate existing safety standards for facilities particularly susceptible to quakes — such as nuclear power plants, highways, gas and oil pipelines, skyscrapers and bridges.

The government must prepare a manual for the people to follow at times of disasters along with efforts to educate them about the danger and countermeasures. We must establish public reaction systems as swift as Japan’s. That’s the only way for the government to convince the public of its determination to cope with unexpected disasters.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 21, Page 26
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