By Jiwon Na
SONGDO, South Korea — Last September, South Korea faced its biggest earthquake since records began: a 5.8 earthquake in the city of Gyeongju, 370 kilometers southeast of Seoul. The National Assembly’s homepage malfunctioned and people received an “emergency disaster message” eight minutes after the actual earthquake. More than 10 million people did not receive the emergency disaster message and were left vulnerable to the earthquake.
The government’s alarming inability to respond to emergency situations reminded citizens of the Sewol Ferry incident, where a ferry operator’s mistake and the government’s exceptionally poor reaction led to the loss of 304 people.
The response to the Sept. 12, 2016 earthquake was no better. Though only a few were injured, that would not be the case if a larger earthquake occurs. Ironically, earthquake detector software created by citizens (informing people of an earthquake according to the number of Internet posts including the word “earthquake”) was faster than the government’s emergency disaster messages, drawing public outrage.
However, the government’s response was not the only shocking part.
Some high schools reportedly forced their seniors to stay in school to study for upcoming tests after the earthquake, creating fear among students. Online communities argued over earthquake safety measures, sparking criticism that earthquake safety manuals by the government were too unreliable.
“When the earthquake occurred, many of the students were studying or participating in clubs,” said Kim Ji Yoon, a junior at Jang-an Jeil High School in Busan, about 77 kilometers south of Gyeongju.
“All of us were surprised because this was the first big earthquake we experienced, but we were told to stay in the classroom and evacuated much later,” she said. “Though we have earthquake safety exercises a few times every semester, our buildings are not earthquake proof and our dormitories rarely have teachers around.”
According to Craig Williamson, assistant head of school at Chadwick International School in Songdo, plenty of food and supplies are kept on hand for emergency situations and are reviewed annually. However, students are not trained in earthquake safety and first aid.
That raises questions about the quality of earthquake safety education in Korean schools, and if they have solid safety initiatives to protect their students. Even when teachers are trained, if students are isolated in times of earthquakes, they would be left open to serious injuries and possibly death.
This infographic based on research and interviews with Chadwick school officials includes information that can help students who experience an earthquake.
While it is crucial for governments to implement earthquake safety policies, it is also imperative for students to learn how to act in natural disasters. Students must be educated upon this matter to ensure maximum safety and security in schools. In a life-or-death situation, a moment of hesitation can cost lives.
—Na is a freshman at Chadwick International School in Songdo, South Korea.