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[Newsmaker] Integrated emergency response system in need

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Published : 2014-05-22 20:37
Updated : 2014-05-22 21:12

Korea prides itself for being superfast at adopting and building new things like none other.

It can make planes, trains and automobiles, and even ships, robots and telecommunication networks faster than most. This culture of “ppalli ppalli,” in which everything has to be taken care of in a matter of seconds, has paved the way for it to become one of Asia’s leading economies.

But none of those fancy and fast things Korea likes to show off seem noteworthy when it comes to saving lives in the face of a disaster like the Sewol sinking.

The country has proven to be slow and disorganized in its emergency response. This is in part due to Korea’s dispatch centers ― such as police, military and fire services ― using different communication systems and channels.

This issue of using a split system for emergency authorities has been around for more than a decade since the 2003 Daegu subway arson attack.
Employees work at the disaster and safety countermeasures headquarters on May 15. The unit, established to help provide countermeasures for typhoons and floods ahead of the monsoon season, is part of the combined safety situation room at Seoul City Hall. (Yonhap)

It has still not been resolved even after politicians and authorities saw the importance of having a consolidated communication system in the aftermath of the fire.

Their negligence, indifference and carelessness toward developing a streamlined response eventually worsened recent tragedies.

What is the use of having the world’s fastest networks if authorities cannot share information, coordinate and reduce their response time to emergencies because they are not even on the same channel of communication?

The Coast Guard uses a system called the iDEN, while the police and firefighters use the TRS, and the military has its own communication system that cannot constantly monitor or prevent civilian accidents. Meanwhile, there are other authorities such as those who watch for forest fires using the VHF.

Basically, they would not be able to communicate with one another and respond adequately in life-or-death situations on land, at sea or in the air.

Experts said it gets more complicated for them to talk as some use high radio frequencies while others such as the military use low ones.

“If the (Sewol) accident occurred in the middle of the ocean far away from land, the emergency response could have been much slower as nobody, perhaps except for the Navy, could have received an SOS immediately from the ship that was using a high-frequency bandwidth,” said an industry source.

The military uses the low AM frequency as it can travel far but has a low communication quality, while FM has a superior quality but needs repeaters for transmission as it cannot travel long distances.

The TRS system by SK Telecom and KT has a similar quality to smartphones using a bandwidth of high frequencies, but its messages cannot travel far unless through numerous repeaters.

The Sewol crisis has engulfed the nation that is now suffering low consumption. Politicians must stop playing the blame game, and the government needs to seriously and quickly adopt what is needed for this country ― an integrated communication system that can help save lives or, better yet, prevent deaths.

By Park Hyong-ki (hkp@heraldcorp.com)

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