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China flood and oil spill response improves. Prevention? Not so much.

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The government has moved faster in response to these disasters and allowed far more open reporting on them that in the past, at least in state-run media. The tendency of local officials to keep bad news from Beijing -- and for Beijing to downplay the scale of problems once it was notified – has been replaced by quick notification from the provinces. And China's State Administration of Work Safety now has a rolling ticker of the latest major industrial accidents on its website.

That's a sharp contrast with the situation just a decade ago, when officials were loathe to notify superiors of embarrassing mishaps and the spread of diseases like SARS and Beijing tried to cover up major problems with news blackouts.

But the crises are multiplying too. China has seen nearly double the number of environmental accidents in the first half of this year compared to last year, according to Bloomberg.

Crisis communication better

Just two hours after the Nanjing blast, the state-run Xinhua news service released a short statement on the accident, according to Taiwan's China-friendly Want Daily newspaper. The paper said local officials had quickly notified the Jiangsu Province government, who in turn notified Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.

Dali Yang, head of the University of Chicago Center in Beijing, said in a phone interview that Chinese regulations now require local officials to immediately notify the central government of any "major accident" – defined as one resulting in more than seven deaths, he said.

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