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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 8)

All News 09:03 December 08, 2018

Another disaster
Heating pipe rupture shows lack of public safety

An underground hot water pipe that burst Tuesday in Goyang, northwest of Seoul, proves again that the authorities have only shouted the empty slogan of making South Korea a safe society. Simply put, the country still has a long way to go before it becomes a safe place to live in.

The accident occurred at around 8 p.m. in Baekseok-dong when the pipe, buried 2 meters underground, ruptured in the bedroom town that was constructed in 1991. It claimed one life and injured 25 people. The burst sent a plume of hot water and steam as high as 50-100 meters, causing chaos around the area.

What a tragedy it was not only for the victims, but also our society. What is more deplorable is that the fatal disaster could have been prevented if appropriate measures had been taken. Frequent cases of sink holes have been reported in the Baekseok-dong area. Thus the municipality and the Korea District Heating Corp. (KDHC), which operates the heating pipe, should have inspected the pipeline to detect any signs of rupture.

The corporation also should have paid more attention to its management of the pipeline, not least because two ruptures, though not serious, already took place in February and March this year in another dormitory town, Bundang, south of Seoul, which was also built in 1991 along with Goyang.

Regrettably, the KDHC did not take any action to prevent a potential rupture of the hot water pipelines in the two cities. Needless to say, theaged pipe must have gathered rust with some cracks. So it is no exaggeration to say that a similar accident could happen at any time there.

The Goyang tragedy came shortly after a fire at an underground switching center of KT, one of the nation's three major telecom operators, at its Ahyeon branch, western Seoul, brought about a communication blackout in the region Nov. 24.

The blackout should have served as a wake-up call for the KDHC and other service providers which rely on the underground infrastructure. This failure to learn from the KT case resulted in another disaster. It is sad to see consumers and residents of the affected regions pay the price for the lack of safety measures on the part of service providers.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has been working on drawing an integrated map of underground facilities since an underpass sank in Seokchon-dong, southeastern Seoul, in August 2014. Yet, the map project has made little progress due to budgetary constraints.

It is urgent to set aside a bigger budget for the project in order to speed up the completion of the map as there are electricity cables, telecommunication lines, water and waste pipes, heating pipes and gas pipes underground.

If the authorities fail to mange such networks, these underground utilities may become a "minefield" that puts people's lives and their properties at risk. Whenever safety-related disasters take place, the authorities only take expedient measures. So policymakers and regulators should be blamed for not preventing disasters. They must keep in mind that prevention is better than cure.

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