27 October 2023

SOUTH KOREA: Seoul to implement crowd alert system

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The crowded streets of Myeongdong in Seoul at night. Photo: File.

The Metropolitan Government of the South Korean capital of Seoul says it will implement a system that alerts authorities to overcrowded areas of the city.

The new safety plan comes nearly a year after the deadly Halloween crowd crush that killed 159 people in the neighbourhood of Itaewon, and is intended to prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future.

In a statement, the Metropolitan Government said the system would automatically count the number of people shown on surveillance cameras.

Software connected to surveillance cameras would transmit data to each District Office, the Metropolitan Government, the Fire Department and the police whenever an overcrowded area was detected.

The government said it would install 909 surveillance cameras with this software by the end of this year, while specifically focusing on 71 areas around the city that were considered highly populated.

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“The Metropolitan Government will also increase the number of personnel dispatched to emergencies from 11 to 20. Additionally, disaster situation rooms have been established at 25 District Offices focusing on monitoring urgent incidents 24 hours a day,” the statement said.

As an illegal construction by the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon was criticised for contributing to the Halloween crowd crush, the Metropolitan Government said it had also cracked down on similar structures with an inspection team revealing 2611 cases of illegal construction in 75 populated places.

More than 1700 cases were voluntarily corrected, while the rest were expected to be subject to penalties.

As the anniversary of the tragedy looms, survivors and bereaved families say they are still seeking answers from the authorities on the bungled disaster response.

Victims were crushed to death in a narrow 3.2-metre-wide downhill alley, where a massive crowd surged in and packed the path, piling onto one another.

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A mass mourning altar, hung with portraits of the dead victims, maintains its presence at a corner of the public grass plaza in front of Seoul City Hall, as bereaved families continue to call for the passage of a special law addressing the deadly accident.

Currently, trials are under way for multiple police, fire-fighting and ward office officials indicted on charges related to the disaster and first-aid response.

Investigations have shown that 87 emergency calls urgently seeking help on the night of the tragedy went largely neglected and no prior disaster-prevention measures were taken for the weekend’s mass Halloween celebrations.

Seoul, 21 October 2023

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