26 October 2016
Many onlookers had spotted giant cracks on the external walls of the burning industrial building in Kowloon Bay. Photo: Xinhua
Many onlookers had spotted giant cracks on the external walls of the burning industrial building in Kowloon Bay. Photo: Xinhua

Kowloon Bay fire: the government’s latest PR disaster

Last week the entire city grieved the loss of two brave firefighters in a raging inferno in an industrial building in Kowloon Bay.

However, many citizens could not help but wonder if the government’s response to the disaster was adequate enough.

During a media briefing on government efforts to contain the fire, for example, the assistant director of the Fire Services Department insisted that fumes coming from the fire did not pose any danger to the health of people living nearby.

When asked if there were plans to evacuate the housing estates next to the burning building, the director of the Home Affairs Department said the air quality around the area was “very good”.

But according to an on-site survey conducted by some NGOs, the concentration level of harmful PM2.5 particles in the atmosphere around the fire scene was 40 to 80 times higher than the standard set by the World Health Organization.

The fact that the building on fire is 50 years old also sparked public concern over the possibility that it might collapse because of the intense heat.

Onlookers had spotted huge cracks on the external walls of the burning building, and many urged the Fire Department to stop sending firemen inside the building because the structure might collapse.

The Security Bureau only responded that the second floor was safe, but refused to comment on whether the rest of the eight-story building was safe.

The Secretary for Security did not ease concerns by saying that firefighters should be always ready to take risks in the line of their duty, because that comes with the territory.

Such remarks gave the public the impression that the administration was intent on putting out the fire at all costs, including the firefighters’ precious lives.

Our government officials should show more regard for the feelings and sensitivities of the public, including the families of those who are carrying out their duties, when making public pronouncements in times of emergency and disaster.

Otherwise, their insensitivity would only take further toll on the credibility and popularity of the government.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 27.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal

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