The Ministry of Knowledge Economy appears to be putting the blame over Thursday's massive blackout on a false report by KEPCO about the country's electricity reserve level. The ministry, which oversees power generation, says it reacted slowly to the emergency because KEPCO reported that the reserve power level was 3.43 million kW by including the generating capacity of power plants that were out of service for maintenance at the time, even though the actual power reserve level stood at a mere 240,000 kW.
But this is not the first time KEPCO has done that. In fact, it has been a common practice for KEPCO to report the reserve power level by including the generating capacity of idling plants. Unless the government rectifies its power generation policies based on such flawed data, there is no guarantee that there will be no further massive power outage.
The power industry is not the only state-run sector laden with potential national disasters. On Sept. 14, a glitch in the computer server that powers the Air Traffic Center at Incheon International Airport paralyzed air traffic control for nearly an hour, delaying flights to and from Incheon, Gimpo and Jeju. The cause of the glitch remains a mystery.
After the nuclear disaster in Japan following the massive earthquake and tsunami, the government vowed to set up an independent committee to assess the safety of nuclear power plants in Korea. But the committee has yet to be formed. The hacker attack that paralyzed computer systems at agricultural lender Nonghyup in April caused information from the government, state-run companies, private businesses and even individual citizens to be exposed to cyber theft, but the online safety measures of the Lee administration, which aims to establish itself as a cyber government, remain vulnerable to attack.
Meanwhile the military has vowed to revamp its defense readiness and upgrade its weapons systems after every North Korean provocation, including the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year. But day after day there are reports of some inadequacy or another, from defective anti-aircraft guns to malfunctioning missile radars.
Korea is a minefield of hazards created by the country's rapid industrialization, covering the whole spectrum from defense and disaster response to essential infrastructure. There is no way of telling when the next disaster will hit, like an outbreak of infectious diseases or food contamination. The National Crisis Management Center was set up at Cheong Wa Dae back in 2003 in order to oversee responses to such crises. But it was not even briefed during the recent blackout.
The government must use these incidents as an opportunity to review possible crises in all areas of society and take preemptive measures while fixing existing problems so that an effective disaster response manual can be created based on real-life circumstances. The endless series of disaster response drills that are anything but realistic must be modified so that such exercises can be of use in a real emergency.