China's top legislature on Thursday adopted the emergency response law aiming at improving the country's ability to handle frequent industrial accidents, natural disasters, health and public security hazards.
With seven chapters and 70 clauses, the law will be effective as of November 1, 2007.
Four colors of emergency declaration (blue, yellow, orange and red) shall be used to indicate the hazard level, with "red" signaling the most serious, or the first-class, situation.
The new law will help effectively minimize losses and prevent minor mishaps from turning into major public crisis, lawmakers said.
The law bans the fabrication and spread of false information on accidents and disasters and requires government to provide accurate and timely information.
"People's governments in charge of coping with an emergency should provide unified, accurate and timely information on the emergency and its development," it says.
The law also states that "units and individuals are prohibited from fabricating or spreading false information regarding emergencies and government efforts to cope with emergencies."
Offenders will be warned, it says. Media organizations or web companies may face revoke of business licenses if their offences lead to serious consequences.
Government officials shall be given administrative punishment if they are engaged in this malpractices, says the law.
Behavior that contravenes public security management rules or criminal statutes will lead to prosecution, it says.
To curb the rising number of explosions, the law provides that "Coal mines, construction sites, and work units who produce, deal with, transport, stockpile and use explosives, combustible and hazardous chemicals and radioactive material production should establish detailed emergency plans and launch inspections at sites where hazardous materials are produced and stored, so as to eliminate possible risks and avoid emergencies."
The law requires "harsh punishments for looting of properties during emergencies and for disrupting emergency response work."
The law says when extremely serious emergencies occur, which severely threaten people's life and property, state security, public security, environmental security or public order, over which the provisions in emergency response law could not control, the NPC Standing Committee or the State Council may declare "the state of emergency" in accordance with the Constitution and the law.
The first version of the draft law submitted in June 2006 included the provision that "news media that irregularly report the development and handling of emergencies without authorization, or release fraudulent reports will be fined from 50,000 yuan (US$6,250) to 100,000 yuan, if the reports lead to serious consequences".
The provision was cut from the law when it was submitted to the NPC Standing Committee for the second reading in June this year after heated debate among lawmakers and the public, many of whom argued it could be misused by government bodies to stall the release of emergency information.
Frequent natural disasters and industrial accidents have caused huge losses of life and property in China.
Police records show 5.61 million sudden natural and industrial emergencies were reported in 2004, leaving 210,000 people dead and 1.75 million injured. Direct economic losses topped 450 billion yuan (US$56.3 billion).
Many officials have resigned or been dismissed for their inability to control emergency situations, including former Health Minister Zhang Wenkang, sacked for the SARS cover-up in 2003, and former Environment Minister Xie Zhenhua, who quit in 2005 for mishandling of the Songhua River pollution incident.