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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 7)

All News 07:01 November 07, 2022

Bungled police response
Disaster prevention and control system not working

The Halloween tragedy in Seoul's Itaewon district reveals that the police's crisis management and command reporting system has been in disarray. It also shows that the nation's disaster prevention and response system has failed to work properly.

The National Police Agency (NPA) is under severe criticism for neglecting its duty of protecting people's lives and their safety. According to ongoing investigations, police failed to take any precautions although they were aware of the dangers of a crowd surge in the nightlife district of Itaewon where more than 100,000 partygoers were expected to gather for Halloween celebrations.

Police were found to have done little after 11 calls were made to the 112 emergency hotline to warn of the dangerous level of the crowd. They ignored some callers' desperate cries for help. This indicated that the Halloween catastrophe could have been prevented if police had taken any preventive measures. Therefore, the tragedy is seen as a manmade disaster.

More seriously, police have taken flak for not having appropriate awareness about public safety. They have also demonstrated their lack of discipline and a dereliction of duty. Their malfunctioning command reporting system made it difficult for the police to react quickly to the disaster which killed 156 people, including 26 foreign nationals, on the night of Oct. 29.

The chief of Yongsan Police Station, which covers the Itaewon area, reported the accident to the head of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency belatedly ― one hour and 21 minutes after the mishap occurred. A senior officer at the agency, who was in charge of the emergency situation monitoring, was out of the office at the time of the deadly crowd crush. She is accused of having made a belated report to the Seoul policy chief and to the situation room of the NPA.

Making matters worse, NPA Commissioner General Yoon Hee-keun was visiting Jecheon, North Chungcheong Province, and fell asleep at around 11 p.m. on Oct. 29 without knowing about the accident. He received a report at 12:14 a.m. the next day, two hours after the tragedy began. This led to a delay in the police's response to the disaster.

The problematic reporting system was all the more serious. President Yoon Suk-yeol received his first report on the Halloween accident at 11: 01 p.m. Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min, who oversees the police, learned about the mishap at 11:20 p.m. Under a normal reporting system, the NPA chief should have reported the case to Lee first and then Yoon. How could such an abnormal situation be created in which the police chief was the last person to recognize the disaster?

Another problem is that the police were focused more on controlling politically-oriented rallies by civic groups in downtown Seoul that day without doing anything about the crowd control for the Halloween festivities, which drew a far larger crowd.

Now, the Yoon administration must overhaul the nation's disaster prevention and response system after conducting thorough investigations into the case and taking stern action against those responsible for the disaster. It is imperative to establish a better system to ensure public safety before it is too late.

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