During a meeting with the police and Yongsan District office last Wednesday, three days before the deadly crowd crush in Itaewon, a group of business owners reportedly demanded safety measures against overcrowding and fatal crowd crushes. At the same time, the situation room of 112 at Yongsan Police Station drew up a warning report on the risk of accidents in Itaewon. The report from the intelligence division at Yongsan Police Station also reveals concerns about safety accidents, which was shared on the police intranet. But such warnings were practically ignored by the police and the local government.
Many signs of danger were detected on the day of the disaster, but the first aid measures had too many holes. “There were a number of 112 reports warning against the severity of the overcrowding right before the tragedy occurred,” said National Police chief Yoon Hee-geun. “The urgent report was to inform the fatal risk of crushes, but the actual measures on the ground were far from sufficient.” Over 400 phone-call reports had been made to 112 from 6 p.m. on the day, and the police and the officials had the necessary capacity to detect such symptoms by monitoring surveillance cameras. The situation would have been different had the police reacted a little earlier and more proactively with other agencies in charge. While the police are putting in massive manpower for swift investigations, it appears too late.
Another problem is the long-standing absence of institutional tools to manage the safety of events where the crowd gathers voluntarily, like the Halloween party, with no host to guarantee the safety of the event. In 2015, one year after the deadly sinking of the Sewol ferry, the police commissioned research on the safety manual for massive voluntary gatherings to a private agency. Their report suggested that there must be clauses to allow the police to intervene in the events when necessary and that the roles of each relevant party must be specifically divided. But the police left it unattended for seven years when they were fully aware of the potential risk of a deadly incident.
It is the due responsibility of the government and municipalities to prevent disasters and minimize the damage when they occur. Any loophole in action plans quickly leads to catastrophes. The warnings repeated over long and short periods have been ignored, and the reason for such negligence and insufficient responses must be thoroughly investigated. Only an accurate analysis of the reason behind disasters can translate into effective prevention.