How Taiwan Prepares For Earthquakes

The 7.4 magnitude earthquake on Wednesday was felt across Taiwan.

Taipei, Taiwan:

The strongest earthquake to hit Taiwan in 25 years killed nine people and damaged dozens of buildings, but the destruction was largely contained thanks to decades of preparedness work.

Taiwan sits on the “Ring of Fire”, an arc of intense seismic activity along the Pacific Rim, and — much like neighbouring Japan — has a long history of catastrophic quakes.

How does April 3 compare with other recent quakes?

The 7.4 magnitude earthquake on Wednesday was felt across Taiwan. It was the most severe since a 7.6 magnitude quake in 1999 killed 2,400 people, one of the deadliest natural disasters in the island’s history.

But the scale of destruction was far smaller than what happened last year in some other parts of the world.

On February 6, 2023, a 7.8 magnitude quake claimed more than 53,000 lives in Turkey and nearly 6,000 in Syria. Almost 39,000 buildings were destroyed.

Then in September, a 6.8 magnitude quake in Morocco killed 3,000 people and damaged around 60,000 homes.

In Afghanistan’s Herat province last October, some 1,200 people were killed and 40,000 buildings badly damaged by a quake with a magnitude of 6.3.

Among the biggest factors, according to experts, are the building regulations and how firmly they are enforced. Collapsing structures are considered the main threat to life during an earthquake.

“There have been large earthquakes with very little damage because they caused little shaking and/or buildings were built to withstand that shaking,” according to the US Geological Survey.

“In other cases, smaller earthquakes have caused great shaking and/or buildings collapsed that were never designed or built to survive shaking.”

What has Taiwan done to guard its buildings against quakes?

Taiwan has included seismic requirements in its building codes for decades, enhancing and changing them as lessons were learned from major quakes on the island and elsewhere in the world.

Then came the 1999 quake, which destroyed more than 51,000 buildings and severely damaged around the same number, according to Taiwan’s National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering (NCREE).

Since then, Taiwan has updated and enhanced its building code to incorporate quake-resistant construction methods, such as steel bars that allow a building to sway more easily when the ground moves.

Some major buildings that were designed before the 1999 quake were already incorporating features to guard against shaking.

The Taipei 101 skyscraper, which began construction a few months earlier and was once the tallest building in the world, has a 660-metric-ton damper that counteracts swaying.

According to the NCREE, around 80 buildings in Taiwan in 2009 had seismic features such as damping and that number grew to more than 1,000 by 2022.

What about older buildings?

The government also requires the reinforcement of structures built before the updated codes were introduced.

These older buildings are often the main cause for concern during earthquakes. There were complaints as recently as 2018 about a lack of funding for reinforcing such structures.

Tsai Ing-wen, who became president in 2016, had promised then to prioritise building safety, especially in older structures.

Further, the NCREE said in 2022 that buildings that do not have strong ground floors — such as those with public areas with open spaces — needed to be assessed and reinforced as soon as possible. These buildings are often called “soft-legged shrimps” in Chinese, according to the body.

What has it done apart from building regulations?

Famous for its cutting-edge tech firms, Taiwan has built up an advanced early warning system that can alert the public to potentially serious ground shaking within seconds.

The system has been enhanced over the years to incorporate new tools such as smartphones and high-speed data connectivity, even in some of the most remote parts of the island.

Taiwanese authorities detect thousands of quakes every year — only a small fraction can be felt — and, much like Japan, disaster preparedness is a part of the culture, including regular drills at schools and workplaces.

What about Taiwan’s high-tech industry?

Taiwan is a semiconductor superpower and one of the world’s leading manufacturing hubs for the chips installed in everything from smartphones to SUVs.

It is home to companies including Foxconn, the world’s biggest contract electronics manufacturer, and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which controls more than half the world’s chip output.

TSMC was among the companies that halted production after the earthquake to assess its facilities for any damage.

Semiconductor production, especially for high-end chips, requires immense levels of precision, which can prove challenging in a region prone to earthquakes.

Chip-making equipment is sensitive to the smallest vibrations, and firms such as TSMC have introduced various features into their buildings — such as dampers — to reduce the risk of damage to the semiconductors.

(This story has not been edited by The Hindkesharistaff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)