Go to contents

Gov't fails to send disaster messages on earthquake following nuke test

Gov't fails to send disaster messages on earthquake following nuke test

Posted September. 05, 2017 08:50,   

Updated September. 05, 2017 09:04


“I felt that the building was slightly shaking at 12:31 p.m. but received no warning messages. This disturbed me more as I had no information about the shakes.”

That was a story of Mr. A, who lives in Seoul. He was not the only one who felt the shakes. The shakes came from an artificial 5.7 magnitude quake along with North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on Sunday. Several dozens of people called their local fire stations for inquiry. Postings such as “Is it a war?” or “It must be an earthquake. Then, why the government does not send disaster messages?” were flooded on social network services after 12:30 p.m. on the day.

The reason why South Koreans did not know anything about the earthquake before they heard the news of the nuclear test was because there was no Cell Broadcast Service for emergency messaging with respect to artificial quakes. According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, it provides the information about an earthquake with a magnitude of over 5.0 via CBS within 15 to 25 seconds and the information includes location, magnitude scale and classes.

Once the weather agency delivers the information to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, the ministry sends it back to mobile carriers so that they can send warning messages to their customers. The entire process takes less than one minute. The detailed information was provided within five minutes. The government has enhanced the warning system significantly since the Gyeongju earthquake occurred last September when the government failed to work properly.

The problem is that the CBS sends messages only in the case of natural earthquakes. Currently, there are no separate standards on artificial earthquakes and citizens have no idea what is actually going on. The KMA explains that information about nuclear tests should be focused more on accuracy and security concerns than promptness. The agency also said that an emergency message was sent Sunday to the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae and the national security authority within three minutes after the artificial quake, and government agencies and broadcasters within seven minutes.

Many pointed out that disaster text messages for an artificial earthquake following the nuclear test should also be sent like a natural quake in order to relieve confusion given big impact on South Korea. “Types of disasters include both natural and social event. An artificial quake due to nuclear test is clearly a social disaster," said Kong Ha-sung, fire safety department professor at Kyungil University. "Hence, the government should promptly deliver the information to the public for their preparedness.”

As for foreign countries, the necessity of having an early warning system is relatively is low as a nuclear test is conducted while government discloses the related information explicitly. However, a nuclear test conducted by the North is unpredictable. Therefore, many argue that such information should be provided to the public in real-time basis as in the case of a natural earthquake, considering an unpredictable behavior of North Korea. “The center will discuss this issue with related agencies and review options on how to enhance the emergency warning system for artificial earthquakes," said Lee Mi-sun, the head of the KMA’s Earthquake and Volcano Center.

Youn-Jong Kim zozo@donga.com