A strategic response to disasters: Three mini-stories from the Republic of Korea

Source(s): Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Türkiye and Australia
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A Ponghang City fumigator truck is conducting COVID-19 disinfection in the city of Ocheon-eup in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea on the afternoon of March 16, 2020.
Yeongsik Im/Shutterstock
A Ponghang City fumigator truck is conducting COVID-19 disinfection in the city of Ocheon-eup in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea on the afternoon of March 16, 2020.

The Republic of Korea’s disaster risk reduction strategy calls for immediate, coordinated response, followed up by ongoing oversight by a dedicated team at the appropriate level of government. These three examples show how this strategy has been successfully activated during the past five years in response to three different hazards.

COVID-19 response

As soon as the Republic of Korea’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was reported on 20 January 2020, the Ministry of Interior and Safety (MOIS) immediately launched a disease-monitoring team. On 27 January, as the crisis alert was raised from yellow to orange, an emergency response headquarters was established to handle the increase in responsibilities.

On 23 February, concerned about the virus spreading nationwide, the government raised the crisis alert to red, and launched the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters (CDSCH). This was headed by the Prime Minister with the Minister of Interior and Safety and the Minister of Health and Welfare as the vice-heads.

To protect its citizens living overseas, the government helped 848 Korean nationals living in Wuhan, China, and 513 in Italy evacuate the virus-hit countries. These evacuees were isolated in temporary accommodation for two weeks after their return to avoid any local transmission.

Korea’s 31st patient was reported on 18 January, and from this point Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province saw a massive surge in confirmed cases. The government actively helped the region to contain the virus by dispatching a government-wide countermeasure task force on 20 February, and then designated the region as a special disaster zone on 15 March, providing timely relief funds on 24 March. In addition, community treatment centers were made available to cope with the shortage of hospital beds.

In an effort to closely monitor the increasing number of self-quarantined people, the government introduced a range of information-technology based tools: the Self-Quarantine Safety Protection App; tracking bands; and a GIS-based situation-assessment system.

The government continues to hold regular meetings with the CDSCH and holds daily media briefings, to update the public on the situation, fostering trust and cooperation in its COVID-19 containment efforts.

Pohang Earthquake response

On 15 November 2017, at 2:29:31 p.m. a magnitude-5.4 earthquake struck 7.5km north of Buk-gu, Pohang. At 2:43 pm, the government assembled the CDSCH, immediately dispatching personnel to the disaster site at 3:00 p.m. to assess damage and manage the situation. The Headquarters maintained close cooperation with the site to monitor the status of conditions on the ground. As head of the CDSCH, the Minister of the Interior and Safety held situation assessment meetings with relevant ministries and local governments, requesting that they take necessary actions by promptly investigating damage and protecting the citizens.

At 4:30 p.m., the Minister visited Pohang in person and performed damage recovery coordination on-site. At 8:20 p.m. PM, the Ministry of Education announced that the country’s annual university entrance exam would be postponed by a week, amid rising concerns by students and parents. This proactive and prompt action was taken to ensure the safety of students and to maintain a stable exam environment.

The MOIS operated the CDSCH for 24 days (from 15 November to 8 December) to support damage recovery efforts and provide a safe housing environment. After a magnitude-4.6 aftershock occurred on 11 February 2018, the Headquarters resumed emergency operation for four days; in total, the Headquarters managed the earthquake response and recovery for 28 days.

The Headquarters posted data related to damage and recovery status efforts on MOIS website 4 times a day and held 13 media briefings, in an effort to actively share information on the situation with the media, relevant organizations and the public.

Wildfire outbreak responses

To quickly contain wildfires and minimize casualties, it is essential to accurately assess the situation, to promptly operate control towers, and to procure firefighting resources and personnel.

When a wildfire broke out near the east coast on 4 April 2019 at 7:17 p.m., the government issued a Level-1 response within 21 minutes. At 8:36 p.m. the government assembled the Integrated Command Headquarters and held joint meetings with the local government, the Korea Forest Service, the National Fire Agency and the military to develop a fire suppression strategy and help locals evacuate the area.

At 9:44 p.m. a Level-3 response was issued, and at 10:00 p.m. a ‘red’ crisis alert was declared. At 11:00 p.m. measures were further strengthened to combat a large-scale fire, and at midnight, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters was assembled, following the declaration of a disaster emergency at 9:00 a.m. on 5 April.

At 0:20 a.m. the president held an emergency meeting with relevant ministers and ordered an all-out response effort, utilizing all available resources. As a result of the order, 29,797 firefighters were dispatched to the site – the largest mobilization to combat a single fire outbreak. In addition, 105 firefighting helicopters, 1,374 National Fire Agency wildfire trucks and fire engines, and military night-vision equipment were mobilized.

Thanks to such timely measures using well-prepared manuals, well-trained personnel and an effective response system, the fire came under control with no further spread.

Once the main fire was contained, on 6 April the local government assessed the damage. On 11 April the government announced the rehabilitation and recovery plan, and assembled the Central Disaster Damage Investigation Team. The rapid transition from response to recovery allowed timely support to the fire-stricken community residents.

MIKTA Disaster Risk Reduction Joint Advocacy Campaign

MIKTA is a diverse and cross-regional grouping of powers that brings together Mexico, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia. Given the growing challenges our planet is faced with, including disasters from droughts, desertification, loss of biodiversity, food shortages, water scarcity, wildfires, and sea-level rise, MIKTA has reiterated its commitment to investing more in research, innovation and infrastructure to strengthen environmental sustainability, adaptation, and resilience against the adverse effects of climate change and disaster risks. In line with this commitment, MIKTA undertakes a joint advocacy campaign highlighting the triple benefits of investing in prevention to accelerate disaster risk reduction, protect development gains and build resilient communities.

The campaign promotes diverse local and regional examples of efforts by the MIKTA members to strengthen disaster risk resilience through investing in prevention. Through sharing of experiences and good practice, the campaign aims to strengthen global adaptation and resilience efforts and build global consensus around the need to accelerate disaster risk reduction efforts.

This article is part of a series of impact stories to generate ideas and solutions in line with the overarching and main themes identified for GP2022.

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