[The Fountain] No more ‘white swans’ in the new year

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[The Fountain] No more ‘white swans’ in the new year

The author is a securities news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

In the West, swans are generally white. The traditional concept was broken when a black swan was discovered in Australia in 1696. In 2007, Wall Street hedge fund manager Nassim Taleb used the term in his book “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” to describe “an unforeseen disastrous factor.”

Later, “white swan” was used to describe “a crisis that was already experienced or repeated but has no solution.” New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini first used the term in his book “Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance” in 2011.

On Dec. 29, a fire in a soundproof tunnel near an intersection of the Second Gyeongin Expressway killed five people and left more than 40 people injured.

The first traffic soundproof facility in Korea was the steel structure installed on the Wonhyo Bridge and the Gyeongbu Expressway Seocho-dong section in 1982. While noise was reduced, there were complaints over the rough exterior and obstruction of the view. That’s why tempered glass or acrylic material was used for the soundproof walls. Later, soundproof tunnels completely wrapping all sides were built. More than 70 are installed around the country.

The function and appearance were improved, but safety has regressed. The soundproof tunnel that caught fire this time used a semitransparent panel made of polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), often called acrylic, over the steel structure. It is lighter and easier to install than tempered glass, and, most of all, cheaper. But it is flammable. If it melts from a fire and falls to the ground, it continues to burn.

Under the Fire Services Act, soundproof tunnels are not required to be equipped with fire extinguishing facilities even when they are an enclosed space, as they are not classified as regular tunnels. In 2012 and 2018, the Korea Expressway Corporation Research Institute published reports pointing to the need to establish clear standards for soundproofing tunnel materials, but they were ignored.

We have been there already. In August 2020, a fire broke out in a soundproof tunnel in Gwanggyo New Town in Yongin, Gyeonggi, which is not far from where the recent fire occurred. The fire was contained in about 40 minutes and resulted in no casualties, but acrylic material was mentioned as the cause of the fire at the time, too. A black swan may be hard to prevent, but I hope we don’t suffer any more from a white swan in the new year.
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