China announces new emergency operations command center

Published 20 December 2006

At a cost of hundreds of million of yuan, the new Beijing-based center will coordinate national response planning; satellites will provide constant data feeds; reorganization intended to bring order to a decentralized emergency bureaucracy; 2008 Olympics have Chinese spending freely on security

With the 2008 Olympic games swiftly approaching, the Chinese government is stepping up its security and emergency response planning — developments we have reported on in great detail (sometimes with a snarky tone when the biggest contracts were rewarded to relatives of high government officials.) We do not know if nepotism is involved in this latest endeavor, and so we take the news of a new national emergency response command center at face value. The monetary value, we hasten to add, is in the hundreds of millions of yuan.

The new Beijing comand center will take in data from eight disaster-monitoring satellites and report directly to the leaders of the country. This sounds like a good idea, considering that that China’s disaster management capabilities are currently distributed among a host of different government departments, including the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Water Resources and the China Meteorological Administration. Each is capable of managing a single disaster, one hopes, but a centralized decisionmaking body, as the United States has come to learn, is a critical element in any serious-minded disaster response regime. No less than the United Nations has estimated that losses can be reduced by 30 to 40 percent if adequate precautions are taken.

Seventy percent of China’s natural disasters are meteorological disasters — droughts, rainstorms, floods and tropical storms — which affect 600 million people every year, with economic losses amounting to 3 to 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

-read more in this Xinhua report