Network blackout: Disaster for ‘No. 1 wired country’


A woman died of a heart attack Sunday, when her husband could not call for an emergency ambulance on time, due to an abrupt network blackout in Seoul caused by a fire.

The fire that occurred Saturday in one regional branch of a mobile carrier not only paralyzed the basic communication tools of residents in the area, but it completely shut down social infrastructure and emergency services.


When the 76-year-old woman in Mapo, western Seoul, complained of chest pains to her husband at around 5 a.m. Sunday, her husband tried to call an ambulance. But he failed, as all KT-related networks were cut off that morning. He ran outside to ask a stranger for help, but when the ambulance team arrived soon after his report, his wife was already dead, according to fire authorities.

“I tried all I could, but I could not save her. If I could have made the call properly, and had the rescue team come only five minutes earlier, we could have saved her,” the husband told a local media outlet.

Landline, mobile and internet networks in areas managed by the Ahyeon branch of KT Corp. in Seoul suffered a blackout during the weekend after the building caught fire at around 11:10 a.m. Saturday. Services remained unavailable or spotty in western Seoul and parts of Goyang City in Gyeonggi Province until late Sunday.

“(The death caused by the incident) clearly shows how network failure can threaten the safety of the people and bring inconvenience to our lives. It was the worst example of a man-made calamity,” Rep. Noh Woong-rae of the Democratic Party of Korea said in a local radio interview Tuesday.

While the incident itself did not cause direct casualties, the consequences of the network failure were dire.

On Twitter, a nurse who works in one of the hospitals located in the affected Seodaemun district, managed under the KT branch, described the urgent situation at work when the network failure occurred.

“Our medical staff use KT services for their work phones. Because it did not work, doctors could not call each other in emergencies, and we had to use the internal broadcasting system instead. I thought somebody might die from this situation,” the nurse who refused to be named, wrote on her Twitter account.

“The oxygen saturation rate was falling to the 60s and I could not call a doctor. I could not leave the patient to get help myself. So another person ran all around the hospital for an available doctor. (As I watched) the patient became more blue, and I thought I wanted to die.”

For a long time, Korea has boasted its status as the most wired country, with high-speed internet connections.

But it was only after the fire that the country became aware that it needs back-up measures to deal with failures in information technology.

Experts stressed that the government should be aware of all consequences of technological developments and be responsible for measures that deal with possible side effects and accidents.

“The advancement of technology always comes with weaknesses in safety and security. Once physical safety measures and information security collapses, daily lives can be paralyzed,” said Nahm Kee-bom, an urban sociology professor at University of Seoul.

“The effect of an accident in the IT industry to society is much greater than it was 20 to 30 years ago,” said Ahn Jong-joo, the chief of Social Safety Communications Center under the Korea Social Policy Institute.

“Information technology services can be considered as public properties, such as gas and electricity. So there should be some kind of regulations to encourage or mandate the industry to spend a certain amount of money on safety measures.”

By Jo He-rim (

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