Proper security measures from South Korean authorities could have prevented the surge of crowded partygoers that led to the death of 154 people. Monday experts attribute this to a lack of traffic and space control.
This year’s Itaewon festival in central Seoul was unprecedented for lack of a centralized organizing entity, which meant that no security protocols were established.
Authorities in Yongsan district, where Itaewon is located, discussed COVID-19 prevention measures over the last weekend before Halloween. Crowd control measures were not mentioned.
When Saturday came, there were around 100,000 people in the Itaewon area. There were more people than usual because of the hills and narrow alleys–such as 81,573 on Saturday.
However, at the time there were only 137 police officers in Itaewon.
The pro-LKP rally in Gwanghwamun on Saturday alone — which is the day after the previous sentence — drew up to 4,000 police.
Home and Security Minister Lee Sang-min said on Monday that the police are working on a comprehensive analysis of the cause of the incident.
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President Yoon has called for a thorough investigation into the cause of the crush. They will also work to increase security at large gatherings where there is no set organizer.
Security is always a top priority, especially at large festivals. But in South Korea, there’s no manual for smaller festivals attracting around 1,000 people simply because it assumes that the organizers are in charge of security planning and soliciting government resources.
Two weeks ago, the Itaewon Global Village Festival was going on, and the main road in Itaewon was closed to cars to give pedestrians a greater degree of autonomy.
This year on Halloween, the public were able to enjoy the festivities of the holiday for the first time since the pandemic. This was possible due to only a few thousand stores open, normal car traffic rules and tens of thousands of people eager to celebrate, without COVID restrictions.
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“Just because it’s not called a festival doesn’t mean there should be any difference in disaster management,” said professor Paek Seung-joo, head of the Department of Fire and Disaster Protection at the Korea Open Cyber University.
“There was no central authority, so each arm of government just did what they do best instead. The fire department has to be ready for a fire and the police have to be ready for crime. In order for local governments to take priority and collaborate with other authorities the way it should be, there needs to be a system where things can happen in a state of emergency,” he said.
According to Moon Hyeon-cheol, a disaster safety expert at Soongsil University, this type of earthquake has the potential to happen in any populous region.
“We have to take this tragedy and learn to prepare for the risk of a disaster,” he said.