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Apartments on Alert Over `Emergency Exit Paparazzi`

Posted July. 26, 2010 12:13,   


An office worker, 39, who lives in Seoul’s Dangsan district says he has headaches over his children’s baby carriage and bicycles since the apartment building’s superintendent asked him to remove them from the hallway.

“I have three children who each have their own bicycles and I also have a baby carriage. I have to go through painful talks with building security every day because they ask me to remove them since I could be caught by emergency exit paparazzi,” he said.

An “emergency exit paparazzi alert” has been issued to residents at many apartment complexes in Seoul under a National Emergency Management rule that took effect July 15. The rule gives a cash reward to emergency exit paparazzi who take photos of baby carriages and bicycles deemed to be blocking emergency exits at apartment building halls.

The preliminary announcement was made last year. A combined 720 cases have been reported July 15-22 in the Seoul metropolitan area alone.

○ 30% reward through end of June

The legislation seeks to crack down on objects placed at apartment building halls by residents that could hinder efficient evacuation in case of emergency. If a paparazzi takes a photo or video of a bicycle or baby carriage that blocks hallways and reports the violation to a fire station, a onsite inspection will ensue after internal screening and analysis of the reported material.

If the blockage is considered a hindrance, the paparazzi will receive 50,000 won (42 U.S. dollars) and the guilty resident will be fined 300,000 won (250 dollars). Two violations will incur a fine of one million won (836 dollars) and three violations two million won (1,672 dollars).

“Any object standing in the hallway might hinder emergency evacuation. Therefore, bicycles and baby carriages should be kept inside in principle,” a National Emergency Management official said.

After the agency made the preliminary announcement on the rule at the end of last year, municipal and provincial governments have enacted ordinances to that effect. For example, Gyeonggi Province, which enacted the reward system June 1, received 2,993 reports in just a month.

Through the end of last month, North Gyeongsang Province received 1,058 reports, South Gyeongsang Province 790, and Daegu 426. Among the 6,158 cases reported, rewards were paid out in 1,090 worth 54.5 million won (46,000 dollars).

So 32 percent of the cases have resulted in cash rewards, not including 2,793 under review or withdrawn.

○ Inconsistent implementation

Due to slight differences over how the system is applied in each region, frontline firefighting workers and residents have expressed confusion. A Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Headquarters Department official said, “When the ordinance was established, we narrowed the scope of the system. If the objects placed in the hallway do not severely block passage, reports of such cases are not subject to reward.”

A source at a Seoul fire station added, “Since apartment building halls are considered emergency exits, they should be completely free of any objects. But since the implementation of the emergency exit paparazzi system, complaints have surged. Therefore, we do not fine cases where bicycles are lined up in order or if baby carriages are neatly folded.”

A staff member at a fire station in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, said, “In addition to budget issues, many paparazzi are sending us photos without explanation and checking every single case only worsens our workload.”

Apartment residents also complain that the system’s implementation is too inconsistent. One office worker said, “The wheels on my baby carriage are so big and messy that it’s hard to keep it inside. My neighbors seem to be pretty generous, but there’s always the possibility that someone might take a photo and report me. That’s very troublesome.”

jmpark@donga.com jhk85@donga.com