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Science and Technology

Taiwan's Technological Prowess Limits Earthquake Damage - A Lesson in Preparedness

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Benjamin Hughes

April 3, 2024 - 10:25 am

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Technological Advancements Shield Taiwan From Severe Quake Impact

Taiwan Earthquake

In the early hours of Wednesday, Taiwan was jolted by the largest earthquake the island had faced in 25 years. Measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale, the seismic event led to significant destruction on the east coast, particularly in Hualien County, where buildings succumbed to the tremors. Despite the severity of the earthquake, technological advancements and a robust disaster response have kept the human cost lower than in previous incidents, spotlighting Taiwan's preparedness and its crucial role in the global technology market.

Lessons from the Past Foster Stronger Resilience

The quake claimed the lives of at least seven individuals and inflicted injuries on over 800 citizens. While such figures may rise, casualties remain substantially fewer than those from a milder quake in 2016, which resulted in over 100 fatalities, and significantly less than the devastating 1999 temblor, which saw more than 2,400 lives lost.

Taiwan has learned from its past experiences. After the catastrophe in 1999, the island enforced revised building standards and invested heavily in technology to mitigate the impact of such disasters. These efforts proved instrumental in protecting against Wednesday's quake.

A Nation's Commitment to Disaster Preparedness

Wu Yih-min, a professor of geosciences at National Taiwan University and a team leader at the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction, emphasized the island’s commitment to technology development. According to Wu, the disaster response system his agency developed over the last three to five years has become increasingly sophisticated, meeting the critical need for preparedness in one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world.

"Taiwan continues to advance these technologies, and we have the advantage," stated Wu. He pointed out the struggle that less technically inclined regions would face in similar circumstances.

Harnessing Technology for Swift Response

Taiwan's disaster response system utilizes a broad array of technological tools to promptly respond to emergencies. The system is proficient at scanning online platforms for key words and photographs related to a disaster, allowing authorities to efficiently coordinate rescue and relief efforts.

Additionally, the system leverages mobile signal detection to monitor the movement of people in the affected regions. In an innovative approach to damage assessment, the response system collects images from surveillance cameras all over Taiwan, enabling authorities to have real-time information about the extent of impact across various locations.

The Impact on Global Technology

The quake's repercussions reverberated through the global technology supply chain. Home to pivotal chipmakers such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) and United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC), Taiwan is a linchpin in the worldwide market for electronic components.

Although these crucial chipmakers had to momentarily halt operations at certain facilities and conduct evacuations, TSMC maintained that such actions were procedural. The island’s tech giants have become adept at dealing with natural occurrences like seismic disruptions and typhoons, demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity.

Architecting for Earthquakes

When building factories within Taiwan’s science parks, companies take seismic activity into consideration. Deputy Minister Lin Minn-tsong of Taiwan's National Science and Technology Council pointed out that the companies have established standard procedures for emergency responses, ensuring quick and effective actions during disasters.

The relatively minimal disruption to industrial operations despite the earthquake underlines the forward-thinking approach of tech firms in Taiwan. It underscores the incorporation of disaster management strategies in the structural design of their facilities.

Rapid Restoration of Services

In the wake of the tremors, more than 300,000 households were plunged into darkness, disconnected from the power grid. Nonetheless, Taiwan's power company demonstrated impressive efficiency by restoring electricity to two-thirds of the affected households in less than two hours, leaving only a minor fraction still awaiting the return of power by mid-afternoon.

This rapid reestablishment of services is a testament to the preparation and responsiveness of the island's infrastructure agencies, bolstering public confidence in the administration's ability to handle crisis situations effectively.

Government's Swift Measures Ensures Safety

Moments after the earthquake hit at 7:58 a.m. Taipei time, President Tsai Ing-wen took immediate action, announcing the set-up of an emergency response office. She further declared that the military would be enlisted to provide aid to areas ravaged by the quake.

The earthquake's timing, just before the Qingming four-day holiday—a time when thousands travel to their hometowns—presented additional challenges. Nevertheless, the government's proactive measures in responding to and managing the emergency were evident.

Infrastructure Challenges

The quake's impact was not limited to buildings and power lines; it also severely compromised road and rail links to and around Hualien, creating impediments for rescue operations. Workers and emergency teams are actively engaged in efforts to reach residents who are trapped, reflecting the ongoing struggle to address the aftereffects of such a significant seismic event.

As Taiwan grapples with repairing the fractured infrastructure, it is also engaged in a race against time to ensure the well-being of those affected by the quake, especially in remote and isolated areas.

A Call for Global Solidarity

This disaster showcases the importance of international collaboration in technology and disaster response. Taiwan's example offers valuable lessons in preparedness and resilience, which countries around the world must heed.

Moreover, the swift resumption of production in Taiwanese factories following procedural evacuations is crucial for the global technology industry, preventing potential disruptions in supply chains.

Conclusion and Expectations

While the earthquake represents a momentary setback for Taiwan, the rapid response and effective management highlight the strength and preparedness of its public infrastructure and technology sectors. As the island focuses on rescue and recovery, the world watches and learns from its exemplary handling of a natural disaster.

The ability of the Taiwanese tech industry to swiftly return to operations serves as a safeguard to the global tech economy, ensuring minimal impact beyond its shores. It stresses the interconnectedness of modern economies and the need for resilient practices.

As Taiwan continues to recover and rebuild, the full implications of the earthquake's impact will unfold. However, the island's established disaster management protocols and technological prowess will undoubtedly play critical roles in facilitating the recovery process.

With assistance from esteemed colleagues Debby Wu, Chien-Hua Wan, and Adrian Kennedy, the story of Taiwan's resilience in the face of adversity continues to be one of inspiration and guidance for the rest of the world.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

For more details on the impact and ongoing updates, refer to the original Bloomberg article: Bloomberg Source.