Yongsan Ward office failed to answer calls about mobile alerts over Itaewon crowd crush for over 1 hour

SEOUL– The central government and the Seoul city government made urgent calls to the Yongsan Ward office, asking it to send out mobile alerts to the public shortly after the deadly crowd crush in Itaewon, but they were unanswered for 78 minutes, officials said Thursday.

The revelation by the Seoul city government came as the Yongsan district office, along with the police and the fire stations in the district, have been under fire for overlooking prior warning signs and did little to prevent and respond to the deadly accident that killed at least 156 people.

According to the city, it was told by the interior ministry via an intra-government hotline at 10:53 p.m. on the day of the accident to send out text messages alerting the public of the emergency situation in the Itaewon neighborhood if necessary.

The city government then made several calls to the Yongsan Ward office to forward the interior ministry’s message, but those calls were unanswered.

Finally, at 11:27 p.m., a Yongsan Ward official in charge of mobile alerts picked up the phone and the message was forwarded, but no mobile alerts followed the phone exchange, prompting the city to step in and send the public alerts on its own at 11:56 p.m., the city officials said.

Under the current guidelines, district offices are in charge of such emergency mobile alerts sent to the public for situations occurring in their own districts. The Seoul city government takes over the task for an emergency concurrently occurring in two or more of the city’s 25 districts.

Following the first emergency alert, Seoul sent six more alerts through around 4 a.m. the next morning, while the Yongsan office issued two alerts, including the first one at 12:11 a.m.
Kim Seong-ho, the chief of the interior ministry’s disaster management division, offered an apology Thursday for the belated mobile emergency alerts, saying the ministry will find ways to revamp the intragovernment hotline and the mobile public alert systems.

Yongsan Ward office chief Park Hee-young is currently under a police investigation, along with former Yongsan Police Station chief Lee Im-jae and Yongsan Fire Station chief Choi Seong-beom, for the bungled response to the Oct. 29 crowd crush. Police have pressed for charges of professional negligence resulting in death for the three officials.

On Thursday, the investigation team is also set to question intelligence officers from the Yongsan Police Station and Yongsan Ward officials in connection with the deadly accident.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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