Weather watchdog slammed for shifting blame

By Xuyang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2012-7-24 9:28:47

Fishermen wait at a port in Sanya, Hainan Province on Monday as typhoon Vincente approaches. Photo: CFP
Fishermen wait at a port in Sanya, Hainan Province on Monday as typhoon Vincente approaches. Photo: CFP

Beijing's weather watchdog has come under criticism for blaming inadequate mobile technology for failing to send out enough warning text messages about the weekend's disastrous rainstorms.

"It would take hours to send a text message to everyone and by then the rain might be over already," said Qu Xiaobo, deputy director of the Beijing Meteorological Bureau, on Sunday, reported the Beijing News.

The heaviest rainstorms in 61 years hit the capital over the weekend, killing at least 37.

Zheng Yuanjie, a wellknown author of children's books, wrote on Weibo that if the authorities had sent out warnings promptly, people's lives may have been saved. Many Web users echoed his words.

Qu said that China Unicom used to conduct tests for the meteorological department and it turns out only 400 texts can be sent in one second, which meant it might be pointless to release warnings through text messages, according to the paper.

The three mobile operators, China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom, reportedly refuted the claim.

Both China Mobile Beijing and China Unicom Beijing have denied that there were any technical obstacles to sending out warning text messages, according to the Sina Weibo microblog of People's Posts and Telecommunications News.

Luo Ling, a spokesperson for China Mobile Beijing, told the Global Times that their company had not issued such a statement.

A spokesperson from China Telecom told the Global Times that they have cooperated with the Beijing government to send out notices, such as safety warnings during the Spring Festival when firecrackers are set off, or other public interest messages.

Ge Changwei, a verified Weibo user who works for China Mobile, wrote on microblogs on Monday that the company sends on average 3 to 4 billion text messages every day. On New Year's Eve of 2011, the three operators in Beijing sent over 1 billion texts.

"It would take one or two hours at the most to send out just 20 million texts," he wrote.

The weather authorities, however, insist that they had sent text messages, apart from releasing warnings through other channels promptly, including television, radio, websites, microblogs, and public transportation televisions, Ding Deping, chief of the professional weather station of Beijing Meteorological Station, told the Global Times on Monday.

Since 9:45 am on Saturday, the official Weibo account of the meteorological bureau sent at least nine messages warning of the hazardous weather conditions. However, the account has less than 50,000 followers.

Ding said that they have sent altogether about 1 million text messages warning of heavy rainstorms, lightning and thunder over the weekend through all three mobile companies.
Beijing established a hazardous weather warning system back in 2004, which includes releasing information through cell phone texts, according to a Beijing News report on July 24 that year.

Ding admitted that there is still a long way to go for the information to reach everybody, but they are working toward that goal. "It also requires different parties, including the government and the media, to take responsibility," she added.

The ultimate problem, however, is not whether the authorities have sent text messages. Even if everybody received a text, they would still have to face a problematic drainage system that caused flooding in the city, said Zhang Xin, an associate professor at the School of Public Administration, Renmin University.

"The authorities should reflect on the infrastructure and city planning, and we also need to take into account whether the related departments acted properly according to the emergency response plans," he said.


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