Lawmakers criticized the government’s response to the record-breaking earthquake and aftershocks in the southeastern region during the interpellation Tuesday, noting that the nation’s safety system faces serious challenges in coping with potential natural disasters.
Ruling and opposition parties alike slammed the government for failing to issue warnings immediately after the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled Gyeongju on Sept. 12, and again when the 4.5 magnitude aftershock hit the region and nearby cities a week later.
The website of the Ministry of Public Safety and Security, the nation’s top disaster agency, was temporarily shut down when the secondary shock struck at 8:33 p.m. on Monday. The emergency alert system via text messages was issued about 10 minutes after the tremors were felt by residents in North Gyeongsang Province.
“We come to realize how vulnerable our country is to earthquakes and that there is almost no safety measures to prevent them,” said Rep. Park Myung-jae of the ruling Saenuri Party representing Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province.
Rep. Park Chan-woo of the Saenuri Party echoed the criticism, questioning the government’s ability to come up with comprehensive measures against disasters. “Disaster manuals turned out to be irrelevant to real-life situations and public workers are poorly trained,” Park said.
The lawmakers pointed out that the Safety Ministry did not include evacuation training for potential earthquakes in its annual safety drill held between May 16 and 20. They also took note of “antiquated and inaccurate” information compared to countries with advanced disaster measures such as Japan.
Park In-young (left), the minster of public safety and security, replies to a question from Rep. Kim Sung-tae of the Saenuri Party during the interpellation session at the National Assembly on Tuesday. Yonhap
Park In-yong, minister of public safety and security, acknowledged the agency’s lackluster warning system and vowed to overhaul it by eliminating the time gap in the earthquake detection system used by the Safety Ministry and the weather agency.
Minister Park said that the ministry’s current warning system requires additional time before broadcasting to the public because its system, which he said was not as accurate as that of the weather agency, has to go through additional vetting.
Opposition parties also criticized the government for making worse the safety concerns among the public who have been unsettled over a series of disasters such as the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2015 and the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014.
“It is so shocking that there has been no changes to government safety protocols even though we went through MERS and the Sewol crisis,” said Rep. Won Hae-young of The Minjoo Party of the Korea.
In response to public outcry upon the Sewol sinking, which left 304 dead or missing, the government had carried out a system overhaul by disbanding the coast guard and creating the Ministry of Public Safety and Security by integrating the divided roles of the administrative and maritime ministries and maritime police to improve disaster prevention systems.
Rival parties, meanwhile, clashed over the government’s stance on North Korea’s mounting nuclear threat following its nuclear test earlier this month.
The Saenuri Party called for prompt deployment of a US advanced missile system to improve Seoul’s deterrence capability, while opposition parties urged the government to tone down its hawkish stance toward the North.
Rep. Kim Sung-tae of the Saenuri Party said that the government should promptly deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system batteries here and criticized opposition parties’ ambiguous position on the security measure.
Meanwhile, lawmakers from the Minjoo Party and the People’s Party suggested the government adopt an engagement policy with the North such as by sending humanitarian support to help its massive flooding. Rep. Kim Boo-kyum of the Minjoo Party said that President Park Geun-hye should send UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as a special envoy for the task.
Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn dismissed the idea during the session, saying now is the time for the government to maintain its stern policy and that inter-Korean dialogue, including a summit between the two Koreas, remain off the table unless the North abandons its nuclear ambition.
By Yeo Jun-suk (email@example.com