Joongang Daily: Adrift in Irrelevancy

As an afterword to Typhoon Kompasu I’d like to write about an oddly directed piece of criticism/opinion which I’ read in a leading newspaper. Beautifully and wordily scripted for the ultimate effect, it’s difficult to really understand why this article made it into the opinion section of the newspaper at all, it could have, if written with a few less decorations, made it into the ‘letters to the editor’ in a respectable newspaper. Even then, it doesn’t really add any strength to any argument whatsoever, that is if there is an argument in it at all. There is certainly no solution.

I’d like to use this article, and the newspaper involved especially, to draw on a few things that came to mind as I shook my head in puzzlement.

Adrift in the storm

By Song Ho-keun

With weather satellites in space, whom should we punish for five deaths and massive damage to farms and buildings?

For starters, allow me to emphasize as much as I can, I have the upmost respect for the author of this article and for his opinion, as much as I hope he has for mine. Where my respect lacks is in the newspaper than considered it a valuable contribution to the opinion piece section of the paper. I’ll go into this in more detail later.

The guy’s point throughout the article is that he couldn’t find out what the status of the typhoon actually was all morning. Did he not have eyes? Could he not see that obviously KMA had made a mistake or were ill-prepared for the powerful storm that rattled Seoul to foundations? Regardless of preparations, while he may have thought it was alright to go out in what looked to me at 5am to be a very violent storm, does he assume that the rest of the population thought that it was alright because there wasn’t a typhoon warning or proper precautions made to protect the people who got caught in the storm? Is this cultural confusion or is it ok to blame someone else for you not being able to judge the fact that the weather is quite dangerous?

That’s one complaint out of the way.

Now, maybe I’m placing standards and preaching here (and some may chuckle at me – not with – for expecting standards from the cho-joong-dong), but when I read an opinion piece from someone who looks like on paper to be a respectable and eminent scholar from Korea’s leading university. Yet despite all his contributions to academia there is no connection whatsoever with meteorology or disaster prevention, only his one brief flirtation with danger during a hurricane that never came in Boston twenty-five years ago with mighty winds of over fifty kilometres an hour (which isn’t that strong, the west coast of Ireland regular gets winds of over one hundred kilometres an hour).

According to the insurance website, reactionsnet.com, they only classified the storm as being similar to that of a category 1 hurricane. Further rubbishing of complaints can be concurred if you go and check some of the other hurricane, typhoon or tropical storm reports, including those in the United States. The most significant of which highlight the fact that ‘(Hurricane) Earl passed further offshore, and was weaker than had been anticipated by the NHC forecasts’ and that weather agencies ‘forecast’ which means ‘to calculate or predict (some future event or condition) usually as a result of study and analysis of available pertinent data’ (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary). Essentially, if you don’t have the information, and I’m assuming that KMA are like every other weather agency and only have so many stations for calculating the passage of storms, how are you expected to make a forecast? It also must be noted that not that many people are probably prepared for typhoons up and down the west coast; remember the last typhoon to hit Seoul was fifteen years ago.

Again, let me say that I have absolutely no problem with the author of this piece or his opinion, we are all entitled to our opinion and I am definitely one who is fond of expressing mine. Where my problem lies is with the Joongang Daily for printing this article and using the guise of the man’s respectability and intellectual position as a means of publicising meaningless political antagonism. As far as I can read the article carries as much relevance as this post and any other post I have made before here. Mere musing and finger-pointing does not belong in a national daily newspaper, and especially one that is linked with the New York Times.

If the Joongang Daily wants to run an opinion piece like this, perhaps they should encourage their writers to suggest solutions to the actual problem of a lack of warning, as opposed to looking for a person to punish. This isn’t secondary school and making an example of someone works fine if you run a labour camp but finding solutions and leading from example are considerably more effective strategies that yield definite results.

In fact, now that I think of it (time for my little mini-rant), the people who should be blamed are the people who didn’t pay any attention to the weather forecasts, news bulletins, and newspaper reports from the day and night before which clearly pointed to the fact that a big storm was coming and may cause some problems with traffic the next morning – this includes me! There are so many widescreens and superphones in Korea, you would imagine they would be used for something other than mirrors and as mind numbers.

The main cause of all the damage during Typhoon Kompasu was the unpreparedness. Throughout the run up to the arrival of the typhoon I saw pictures of Jeju with ships tied up in the harbours covered to protect them from the wind. They were all neatly organised in what looked like a well rehearsed formation; you can clearly see fishermen sitting around talking in shooting the breeze like postures. As I said in the previous article, Jeju gets at least two or three typhoons a year.

As I mentioned earlier, the west coast of Ireland regularly has sustained winds of over one hundred kilometres an hour and life goes on regularly. Now, not much may happen but ferries still run to islands and people get up early and go to work as the house might feel like it may get taken away in the next gust. As my god father explained to me, ‘they know how to put a roof down up here (in Donegal)’. If they didn’t there wouldn’t be many houses around. Even derelict houses with little more than a few mottled walls left over still have sturdy and well tiled roofs; this is the case in both Donegal and Kerry, both of which take the lion’s share of Atlantic abuse for twelve months a year.

If you watch the regular paths of typhoons in the Pacific Ocean a large number go towards Japan, and Tokyo takes a fair beating from these storms. Tokyo though, what with the earthquakes and tsunamis is always well prepared for these kinds of physical assaults. Rarely are disaster reports heard from Japan anymore. Why? It’s prepared.

Seoul clearly didn’t have a clue how to react. If typhoons regularly came in on top of Seoul people would have just waited until the worst was over and then calmly made their way into work. People would not have been outside checking the roof tiles of their home in seventy-five kilometre an hour winds. The subway lines would have been adequately reinforced to take the brunt of the winds. Most importantly, people would have known better than to rely on government agencies to tell them whether or not it was safe to drive to work. Their own eyes would have offered the sound judgement they required, not their iphones.

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