Taiwan earthquake showed it was well prepared — perhaps more so than U.S.


The highly effective earthquake in Taiwan on Wednesday shook a rustic that was effectively ready for a seismic disaster — possible extra so than some areas of the U.S., a number of specialists mentioned. 

9 folks have been reported lifeless, although Taiwanese officers mentioned the loss of life toll could rise in the coming days. Greater than 1,000 have been injured and at the very least 100 have been feared trapped. However given the scale of the quake — magnitude 7.4 — seismology specialists mentioned it appeared the dense nation had fared in addition to might be anticipated in preliminary reviews.

That’s no fluke: Taiwan makes use of a strong early-warning system and has fashionable seismic constructing codes, specialists mentioned, and its inhabitants is accustomed to frequent seismic exercise. Following the devastating 1999 Chi-Chi earthquake, the nation considerably upgraded a lot of its infrastructure.

“Two thousand 4 hundred folks died. And this time, we solely have 9 folks reported lifeless. You see the progress,” mentioned Larry Syu-Heng Lai, a geologist and postdoctoral researcher on the College of Washington who grew up and studied in Taiwan. “Our buildings are stronger. Our amenities are higher. You’ll be able to say we take it critically — but it surely’s a part of life day-after-day.” 

Specialists mentioned U.S. cities in earthquake-prone areas alongside the West Coast are making various ranges of progress to arrange for temblors. However none measure as much as Taiwan’s capital.

“Seattle isn’t doing as a lot to arrange — or Portland — as Los Angeles or San Francisco. And neither are doing as a lot to arrange as Taipei,” mentioned Harold Tobin, the director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Community and a professor on the College of Washington.

A California Freeway Patrol officer checks the injury to automobiles that fell when the higher deck of the Bay Bridge collapsed onto the decrease deck after the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco on Oct. 17, 1989.George Nikitin / AP file

Officers and researchers in Taiwan are nonetheless evaluating the earthquake’s traits, impacts and casualties. The teachings they study might present U.S. scientists and political leaders a measuring stick for the way buildings and communities right here would possibly fare. 

“These occasions at all times give us info to guage how effectively we’re doing right here in California,” mentioned John Wallace, a professor of civil and environmental engineering on the College of California, Los Angeles. 

In a evaluation of early photographs and reviews from Taiwan after the earthquake, Wallace mentioned it appeared that a lot of the injury was in older concrete buildings that have been 5 to 10 tales tall and had first flooring with open industrial house. Many have been on avenue corners, the place buildings will be subjected to twisting forces that heighten injury. 

“There’s a weak first story that collapses. It concentrates the injury in that first story,” Wallace mentioned. 

A damaged building in Hualien City, Taiwan, after an earthquake
A broken constructing Tuesday in Hualien Metropolis, Taiwan.TVBS by way of AP

He added that older, concrete buildings can be anticipated to wrestle with an earthquake and are the targets for retrofits in Taiwan and the U.S. In the meantime, Taiwan’s tall buildings — which have a better degree of engineering — appeared to have carried out admirably, as anticipated, Wallace mentioned.

That features Taipei 101, the nation’s tallest tower, which includes a 660-metric-ton metal ball suspended with cables in its higher tales — a system designed to dampen motion from heavy winds and earthquakes. 

“If what appears to be like prefer it occurred holds up — for the magnitude of this earthquake and its proximity to land, general they did fairly effectively there. I hate to say that when folks have been killed,” Tobin mentioned.

Almost 25 years in the past, the magnitude-7.7 Chi-Chi earthquake catalyzed Taiwan towards higher preparation.  

Syu-Heng Lai was 11 when the quake struck and might nonetheless recall how the temblor shook him awake at his household’s house in TaiPei and almost threw him away from bed. 

After that, he seen the nation slowly remodeling to higher mitigate danger. In school, there was a brand new emphasis and coaching on earthquake security. And over the following decade, political leaders instituted new constructing codes, reclassified seismic zones and designated emergency command facilities in rural areas, Syu-Heng Lai mentioned. 

Wallace flew to Taiwan per week after the Chi-Chi quake and helped examine bridges in its aftermath. Within the years that adopted, he mentioned, the nation began by evaluating and retrofitting faculty buildings after which moved on to the oldest buildings most in danger for collapse. 

The initiatives resemble Southern California’s, Wallace mentioned: “We’ve mainly been doing sort of the identical factor.” 

He added, although, that he thinks Taiwan has moved extra rapidly as a result of frequent, smaller earthquakes saved the problem prime of thoughts. 

Different West Coast states lag behind California. Washington only began to systematically evaluate its schools in the past 10 years, and plenty of of Seattle’s old brick buildings are not retrofitted and are likely to collapse in a large earthquake.

Taiwan’s subtle early-warning system can also be an necessary a part of its security infrastructure. The system depends on a national community of seismic devices; when a big quake occurs, the system sends messages to folks’s telephones and mechanically cuts into dwell TV programming to provide residents seconds of warning.

Some features of it are much like the techniques utilized in California, Oregon and Washington.

“Within the U.S., our ShakeAlert system has the potential to ship out an Amber Alert-style messages to all our telephones, but it surely isn’t wired in broadcast media in the identical approach,” Tobin mentioned. 

Video on social media confirmed TV footage of Taiwanese information programming by which on-screen warnings arrived earlier than shaking started, in accordance with Tobin.  

In Taiwan, “there’s a extra complete warning functionality,” he mentioned. 

The techniques in each international locations work by detecting “P-waves” from an earthquake and calculating their power earlier than sending alerts by way of web networks. 

“Earthquakes ship totally different waves — ripples on a pond — from the epicenter,” Tobin mentioned. “The ripples that unfold the quickest will not be the damaging ones, they’re a harbinger, a Paul Revere rider.” 

Syu-Heng Lai mentioned Taiwan’s progress on earthquake security was gradual and required public schooling, in addition to belief in authorities and religion in scientists. 

“We took 25 years to get thus far,” he mentioned.


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