Despite the national slogan to attract more foreign tourists, the government does not seem to be keen on protecting foreigners after they arrive here.
The lack of concerns about foreigners’ safety in times of natural disasters and massive epidemics has been noticeable over the past few years.
A case in point was the government’s reactions to the outbreak of the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2015. Throughout the rage of the infectious disease, the government failed to take proper safety measures for expatriates in Korea, including the delivery of information to them.
Faced with the concerns of the foreign community, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) finally came up with a plan to disseminate information to foreigners during a crisis. The plan, however, came two years after the outbreak, forcing many to think about what would have happened if a similar incident had occurred during the period.
So when a magnitude-5.4 earthquake struck Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, on Nov. 15, a question came to mind: had the government learned from its previous mistakes and set up a proper protocol to alert foreigners?
Sadly, the answer seemed negative -- the government still lagged behind in protecting foreigners. Although the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) deserves some compliments for its quick text alerts to Koreans, not much had changed when it comes to foreigners.
Even more alarming was the earthquake in Pohang occurred more than a year after the magnitude 5.8 earthquakes struck Gyeongju, also in North Gyeongsang Province.
In the case of Gyeongju earthquake, the Ministry of Interior and Safety (MOIS) laid out a plan to alert foreigners of natural disasters. The plan included an upgrade on “Emergency Ready,” an application initially developed to help foreigners find their embassies or shelters.
It was more than disappointing to find out that the application had not been upgraded even after the Pohang earthquake. Further inquiry into the application revealed that the ministry had planned to complete its upgrading no earlier than next month “in preparation for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.”
Admittedly, the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics is a great event for Korea and the world. However, those who visit Korea to participate in or watch the Olympics will leave in a few months. Preparing the earthquake alert application aimed at the Olympics exposes the government's neglect toward more than 2 million expatriates who have lived in Korea.
Korea needs to come up with a viable plan to protect foreigners as the two recent earthquakes have demonstrated it is no longer an earthquake-free country.
The ministry might believe the “Emergency Ready" app is enough to alert foreigners, but it never is, as are seen in the cases of foreign nations,
For example, the Japan Tourism Agency offers “Safety Tips,” a push-enabled information alert app for foreign tourists. The application provides earthquake early warning and tsunami warning in English and also shows an evacuation flowchart in emergency situations.
Japan is also developing a new application ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics that provides the latest disaster information and directions to evacuation areas in English, Chinese, Korean and other major languages. It will also use pictograms to help foreigners further.
Other countries such as Mexico, Taiwan, and China all have public earthquake early-warning systems that can reach foreigners effectively.
Welcoming foreigners is okay, but the Seoul government has some homework to be done before inviting them.
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