How to enhance public trust through effective communication tested following Qiqihar school stadium roof collapse
Published: Jul 24, 2023 05:26 PM
Firefighters in rescue operation at the site where the roof of a school gymnasium collapsed, in Qiqihar city, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, on July 24, 2023.?Photo: VCG

Firefighters in rescue operation at the site where the roof of a school gymnasium collapsed, in Qiqihar city, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, on July 24, 2023.?Photo: VCG

The collapse of the gymnasium at No. 34 Middle School in Qiqihar, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province has resulted in the tragic loss of 11 lives, with the majority being students, deeply saddening the nation. The heartbreaking video footage of grieving parents expressing their dissatisfaction with the hospital and the government's delayed communication rightfully warrants sympathy and understanding. As the nation faces the challenges of the ongoing flood season in various regions, this incident in Qiqihar appears to be a serious liability accident that has once again sounded the alarm for the whole country. 

At the beginning of the accident, there was some confusion in disseminating information, which can be considered somewhat unavoidable. As of Monday morning, the number of people trapped and the death toll have been clarified and promptly updated. The earliest figures were released by the fire department. The statement said  "eight people have been rescued" and "the 10th trapped person has been rescued," creating an ambiguous impression that all these individuals had survived. In reality, however, a total of 15 people have been found so far, with only four of them being out of life-threatening danger, while the remaining 11 died and some of them lost vital signs at the time of the rescue. The fire department's statement is subject to its limitations and may not be aware of whether the rescued individuals can ultimately be revived. Nevertheless, after being disseminated to the public, it assumed the role of an "official statement" and thus contributed to a flaw in communication.

From a personal perspective, I believe that the intensity and speed of the rescue operations in Qiqihar City following this significant accident do not seem to indicate any issues of concern. Furthermore, the subsequent updates in disseminating information to the public can be regarded as timely. However, two crucial pieces of information were omitted from the initial briefing: The number of individuals trapped and the number of people who had been rescued without vital signs.  These two important pieces of information should not be left blank and need to be updated as soon as possible by government agencies. Nowadays, when local authorities provide briefings on incidents, they often prioritize highlighting leaders rushing to the site to assume leadership and how hard the rescue job is being done while downplaying the numbers of human casualties. This approach has created a significant impact on the public's perception.. In the future, continuing with such briefings would only prove to be counterproductive.

The parents in the video, who were waiting for information at the hospital, needed to be comforted first. Officials who came on the scene should have taken an active part in empathizing with the parents, instead of merely staying on the scene and making the parents feel that those personnel are there to "maintain stability." At a time when parents are worried and anxious, any e government member who visits the hospital should bring comfort.

This is a tragic event. At least 11 families are currently experiencing great distress as a result of the sudden loss of family members. The disaster has also had a significant impact on Qiqihar City. We hope that all of the families who have lost loved ones will be consoled, and that the accident will serve as a lesson to the entire country. It is also anticipated that officials around the country will think about how to better engage with the people and win their trust amid devastating events, and how they can better serve the public and promote social cohesion during such difficult times.

The author is a commentator with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn