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Emergency Management Systems in Disarray

Posted May. 21, 2008 07:29,   


New cutting-edge IT systems the government introduced in the wake of earthquakes, floods, and other disasters in Korea are reportedly under poor management.

With the beginning of the new millennium, a series of disasters, such as the Daegu metro fire disaster and the wild fire in Gangwon Province, shocked Korea. In response, the government has incorporated information technology in its disaster management and response systems for early detection and information sharing with other agencies and localities.

There has been growing criticism, however, as the actual readiness of the system falls short even of the response mechanisms the government had in place before it proposed the new disaster emergency systems.

○ Legions of Haphazard Response Programs

The Korean authorities came to realize the need for a systematic disaster response and relief system, following the tsunami disaster in South Asia in December 2004 and the raging wild fire in Gangwon region in April 2005. It ha established a text message alert system by December 2006.

The text message service reached almost 80 percent of mobile phone users nationwide in its early stages. Now, only 46 percent of users can receive relevant information through the service.

The authorities decided to exclude from the scope of service those who subscribed to the Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) service. The new technology of wireless service has attracted more than 10 million new users in just one year.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has unsuccessfully asked for the cooperation of mobile service providers to upgrade the system, throwing the system’s future into doubt.

In addition, it was noted that agencies in charge of emergency management used different communication systems during the August 2002 flood and the February 2003 Daegu fire, making it difficult to set up a single control system. In response, the government tried to create a single communication system among different agencies including, among others, fire departments and police.

Earlier this year, however, the National Board of Audit and Inspection ruled the project was too expensive with inefficient implementation. The project was put on hold.

When blizzards paralyzed highways in the Daejeon area in March 2004, the government envisioned an ambitious national management network system. But this was later cut to less than half its original scale.

A senior official confirmed, “At first, we expected 71 agencies to cooperate and contribute to the new system. Now, the number has shrunk to 34.” Agencies cited various reasons for the companies’ refusal as the firms refused to provide specifics.

When the No. 1 national treasure was damaged in a fire, the government promised a high-tech fire response system. But experts predict this plan will also fizzle out due to lack of money.

○ Examples of Advanced Countries

Advanced countries including the United States, Japan and European countries have renovating their emergency management systems, infusing information technology into their networks.

According to the National Information Society Agency, the U.S. federal government has been operating information-sharing and analysis centers, which include financial institutions, telecommunications companies, and utility providers.

After it was struck by a subway terror attack in 2005, Britain set up an integrated wireless communications network connecting metro authorities with the police.

Administration professor Lee Jae-eun at Chungbuk National University pointed out, “Korea is no longer free from disasters including earthquakes. We need to see to that emergency response measures are tailored for each type of disaster, and that an organized control system is established.”

nex@donga.com jhk85@donga.com