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Yoon says Korea lacks crowd management

Government to undertake all-out efforts to prevent recurrence, build crowd management

Lost items related to the Itaewon accident are placed at the lost and found center at Wonhyoro Multipurpose Indoor Gymnasium in Yongsan, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Lost items related to the Itaewon accident are placed at the lost and found center at Wonhyoro Multipurpose Indoor Gymnasium in Yongsan, Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk-yeol said the Itaewon disaster showed the nation lacks capability in crowd management, vowing all-out efforts following the tragic surge disaster and to come up with measures on crowd management to prevent a recurrence.

As South Korea is in a state of mourning after the deadly Itaewon accident that killed at least 156 people and injured 151, Yoon canceled his usual morning interview and instead presided over a Cabinet meeting at the presidential office in Yongsan on Tuesday morning.

He ordered officials to “come up with measures to fundamentally prevent similar accidents,” according to the presidential office.

“It is impossible to fully protect the lives and safety of the people through inertial responses or perfunctory inspections,” the president said. “It is necessary to take certain safety measures for crowd management not only on the back roads where the disaster occurred but also at stadiums and performance halls where crowds gather.”

Yoon said the government would soon hold a national safety system inspection meeting with relevant ministers and experts, urging relevant ministries to prepare well.

The Itaewon disaster clearly showed the importance of managing and controlling crowd accidents, or "crowd management,” the president conceded, adding, “Our society still lacks a lot of systematic research and development on crowd management."

A day earlier, Yoon told officials to set up a crowd accident management system that can be applied to voluntary group events without organizers like the Itaewon disaster.

Experts say the Itaewon tragedy could have been prevented if police and the district office prepared for more people than usual to celebrate the first mask-free Halloween celebration in three years.

Professor Kwak Dae-kyung at Dongguk University's College of Police and Criminal Justice said the lack of a police role and Yongsan-gu Office aggravated the situation.

"The number of police used in Itaewon increased to 137 compared to the past, but many of them did not have experience in controlling masses," Kwak said. “The police should have played a role in managing and dispersing the crowd in the field. Regrettably, there was a lack of preparation.”

Many of the police in the field were placed for security affairs, such as drug control.

National Police Agency Commissioner Yoon Hee-geun promised a high-intensity internal inspection and a quick investigation into the accident.

Yoon held a press briefing Tuesday and said, "We will quickly and strictly conduct intensive inspections and investigations on all parts without exception to clarify the truth and clarify the responsibility of the incident."

Police will set up an independent special organization to get to the truth transparently and strictly, he said.

The government and experts have expressed concerns about the public reeling from collective trauma and grief, calling on people to refrain from spreading and viewing images of the incident.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said not only the bereaved families who were grieved by the unexpected accident, but also many citizens who were at the scene or witnessed through the news were shocked mentally.

“The government will actively support the bereaved families, the injured and the general public through the National Center for Disaster and Trauma and the Seoul Mental Health Welfare Center.”

During the national mourning period for the dead until midnight Saturday, President Yoon plans to halt his regular morning interviews on his way to work.

Kim Eun-hye, senior presidential secretary for public relations, said in a written briefing on Monday, "President Yoon decided not to do door stepping during the period of national mourning that should be grieved and comforted together."



By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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