www.nkoreaconsulting.com | Case Study: Pyongyang Building Collapse
When in May 2014 North Korea announced – much to everyone's surprise – that a major building collapse had taken place, observers from all sides were startled by claims that the search, rescue and clear-up operation had only taken four days to complete. If, as North Korea claimed, the operation was so quick to complete, specialists suggested it would have been at significant human cost, not allowing time for the type of meticulous rescue operations normally required by such an accident.
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Pyongyang Building Collapse

Project type: Satellite imagery analysis / Custom research

When in May 2014 North Korea announced – much to everyone’s surprise – that a major building collapse had taken place, observers from all sides were startled by claims that the search, rescue and clear-up operation had only taken four days to complete.

If, as North Korea claimed, the operation was so quick to complete, specialists suggested it would have been at significant human cost, not allowing time for the type of meticulous rescue operations normally required by such an accident.

To determine whether the accident occurred when North Korea said it did would therefore help better understand Pyongyang’s approach to search and rescue after a major accident.

By using a combination of specially commissioned satellite imagery, research using on-the-ground sources, and consultation with engineering specialists, NK Consulting’s Chad O’Carroll was able to identify the precise timeline of events.

satellite-collapse

Satellite Analysis

Working in collaboration with leading satellite imagery specialists, NK Consulting was able to analyze the aftermath of the accident, observing that – in support of DPRK claims – authorities had cleaned up the site of the accident by the time claimed in official media.

Yet consultation with engineers and search and rescue specialists suggested such a rapid clean-up would have been close to impossible, implying state media may have misled about the precise date of the collapse.

With prior satellite imagery that could have proved the date of the collapse impossible to source, the challenge was to identify the date using sources within North Korea.

On-the-ground identification

Drawing on multiple in-country sources, NK Consulting was able to source street-side photos of the building as close to one week prior to the date on which North Korea claimed the collapse to have occurred.

But while the photos, which showed construction to have likely stalled prior to the collapse, went far in reducing the time-frame the accident could have occurred, they were not enough for corroborating the precise date.

Skyline confirms timeline

Street-side photos of the structure helped identify what the building’s profile looked like, enabling NK Consulting to identify it on photos of Pyongyang’s skyline taken atop the Juche Tower, a well known high-visibility landmark.

Drawing on both public and private sources, NK Consulting was able to obtain subsequent photos taken the building on May 13 and May 14, confirming North Korea’s official timeline of the accident.

In confirming the official timeline, NK Consulting – in collaboration with leading engineering and search and rescue experts – concluded Pyongyang may have risked further lives at the expense of its rapid clean-up operation.

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