Lessons from the US Surfside Disaster

At 1:30 a.m. on June 24 (local time), a 12-story apartment building collapsed suddenly in Surfside, Miami-Dade County, Florida. Most of the residents, who had fallen into a deep sleep in the middle of the night, could not escape. More than 150 people were missing, except for about 40 people who were rescued from balconies immediately after the accident. Of these, 90 were found dead by July 11. It was a tragedy reminiscent of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The site was surreal two days after the accident. A building that collapsed flat like a pancake in the early summer sun in Miami Beach, a major resort in the U.S., citizens weeping and praying for the missing in front of it, and tourists tanning at the beach less than 100 yards from the site of the disaster. The scenes could not be more different.

If there is anything similar to the scene of Korea’s disaster, it was the dedication of search and rescue officials. From the local mayor to civil servants, they worked 24 hours a day, but it was disappointing to see them frustrated because they could not find a single survivor. To prevent interference with the rescue operation, the president’s on-site visit focused on comforting the families of the missing, which was notable.

Another thing in common with Korea is that it was human error that caused it, even though there were several prior opportunities to prevent the disaster. A case in point is that residents or authorities failed to properly take care of the building, even though a report came out in 2018 that it was seriously damaged.

But one big difference was that there was no finding a scapegoat. Authorities’ investigation to find out the truth of the accident and investigation into alleged crimes continues, nearly three weeks after the disaster, but it is not aiming to draw conclusions. If it were South Korea, there would have been a flurry of reprimands and instructions, such as “question the person in charge” and “the speed of rescue and search operations is too slow,” but such public opinion was not harnessed. There was no battle of responsibility between the ruling and opposing parties.

This accident was a ridiculous disaster that should not have happened in a developed country like the United States. However, instead of just letting the situation simmer down on its own like nothing happened, the persistence and dedication shown by the officials who sought to learn from past wrong doings and build a better future was impressive. I want Korea to learn this kind of social culture.

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