The Taiwan earthquake showed that it was well prepared, perhaps more so than the United States. | Trending Viral hub

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The powerful earthquake that struck Taiwan on Wednesday shook a country that was well prepared for a seismic catastrophe, probably more so than some regions of the United States, several experts said.

Nine people have been reported dead, although Taiwanese officials said the death toll could increase in the coming days. More than 1,000 people were injured and at least 100 are feared trapped. But given the size of the quake (magnitude 7.4), seismology experts said it appeared the dense country had fared as well as could be expected in initial reports.

That’s no coincidence: Taiwan uses a robust early warning system and has modern seismic building codes, experts said, and its population is accustomed to frequent seismic activity. Following the devastating 1999 Chi-Chi earthquake, the country significantly improved much of its infrastructure.

“Two thousand four hundred people died. And this time, we only have nine people reported dead. You see progress,” said Larry Syu-Heng Lai, a geologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington who grew up and studied in Taiwan. “Our buildings are stronger. Our facilities are better. You can tell we take it seriously, but it’s part of life every day.”

Experts said American cities in earthquake-prone areas along the West Coast are making varying levels of progress in preparing for tremors. But none of them measure up to the capital of Taiwan.

“Seattle is not doing as much to prepare (or Portland) as Los Angeles or San Francisco. And none of them are doing as much as Taipei to prepare,” said Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and a professor at the University of Washington.

A California Highway Patrol officer checks damage to cars that fell when the upper deck of the Bay Bridge collapsed onto the lower deck after the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco on October 17, 1989.
A California Highway Patrol officer checks damage to cars that fell when the upper deck of the Bay Bridge collapsed onto the lower deck after the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco on October 17, 1989.George Nikitin Archive / AP

Taiwanese officials and researchers are still assessing the characteristics, impacts and casualties of the earthquake. The lessons they learn could provide American scientists and political leaders with a measuring stick for how buildings and communities here would fare.

“These events always give us information to evaluate how well we are doing here in California,” said John Wallace, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In a review of early images and reports from Taiwan after the earthquake, Wallace said it appeared that much of the damage was done to older concrete buildings that were five to 10 stories high and first floors with open commercial spaces. Many were on street corners, where buildings can be subject to twisting forces that increase damage.

“There is a weak first floor that collapses. It concentrates the damage on that first story,” Wallace said.

A damaged building in Hualien City, Taiwan, after an earthquake
A building damaged on Tuesday in Hualien City, Taiwan.TVBS via AP

He added that older concrete buildings were expected to struggle in an earthquake and are the target of retrofits in Taiwan and the U.S. Meanwhile, Taiwan’s higher-end high-rise buildings, which have a higher level of engineering, appeared to have worked. admirably, as expected, Wallace said. saying.

That includes Taipei 101, the country’s tallest tower, which features a 660-metric-ton steel ball suspended by cables on its upper floors, a system designed to cushion movement from strong winds and earthquakes.

“If what appears to have happened holds up, given the magnitude of this earthquake and its proximity to land, overall they did pretty well there. I hate saying that when they killed people,” Tobin said.

Nearly 25 years ago, the magnitude 7.7 Chi-Chi earthquake propelled Taiwan toward better preparedness.

Syu-Heng Lai was 11 when the earthquake hit and still remembers how the tremor woke him up in his family’s apartment in TaiPei and nearly threw him out of bed.

After that, he noted that the country was slowly transforming to better mitigate risk. At the school, there was a new emphasis and training on earthquake safety. And over the next decade, political leaders instituted new building codes, reclassified seismic zones and designated emergency command centers in rural areas, Syu-Heng Lai said.

Wallace flew to Taiwan a week after the Chi-Chi earthquake and helped inspect bridges after the earthquake. In the years that followed, he said, the country began evaluating and modernizing school buildings and then moved on to older buildings most at risk of collapse.

The initiatives look similar to those in Southern California, Wallace said: “We’ve basically been doing pretty much the same thing.”

However, he added that he believes Taiwan has moved more quickly because frequent, smaller earthquakes kept the issue at the forefront.

Other West Coast states lag behind California. Washington It only began systematically evaluating its schools in the last 10 years.and many from Seattle Old brick buildings are not modernized and are likely to collapse in a major earthquake..

Taiwan’s sophisticated early warning system is also an important part of its security infrastructure. The system is based on a national network of seismic instruments; When a large earthquake hits, the system sends messages to people’s phones and automatically cuts off live television programming to give residents seconds of warning.

Some aspects are similar to systems used in California, Oregon and Washington.

“In the US, our ShakeAlert system has the ability to send Amber Alert-style messages to all of our phones, but it’s not connected in the same way to broadcast media,” Tobin said.

Videos on social media showed television footage of Taiwanese news programming with warnings coming on screen before the tremors began, according to Tobin.

In Taiwan, “there is a broader warning capability,” he said.

Both countries’ systems work by detecting “P waves” from an earthquake and calculating their strength before sending alerts over Internet networks.

“Earthquakes send different waves (ripples in a pond) from the epicenter,” Tobin said. “The waves that spread the fastest are not the harmful ones, they are an omen, a Paul Revere horseman.”

Syu-Heng Lai said Taiwan’s progress in earthquake safety was gradual and required public education, as well as trust in the government and faith in scientists.

“It took us 25 years to get to this point,” he said.

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