Sunday, March 13, 2011

What if it happened here?

What about disaster here?

I got to wondering about this question. The scale of the Japanese disaster defies imagination; how would Taiwan handle such an event? I hunted down some stuff but it basically all came down to this:
Following the Chi-chi Earthquake, Taiwan began to systematically review and improve its emergency management system, yet there is still a lack of a national and policy-oriented spearheading with respect to disaster mitigation and response management measures for major urban earthquake disasters. For example, every four years, the Executive Yuan, Taiwan holds a national technology conference. The strategies adopted at the 2005 conference emphasized the search for and application of an earthquake disaster loss assessment system; at the 2009 conference that marked the 10th anniversary of the Chi-chi Earthquake, a recapitulation report on Topic VI mentioned the importance of studying and drafting a large-scale urban earthquake disaster mitigation strategy. Although such issues were academically discussed over the past decades, there was not much to be done in terms of the government’s actual strategizing framework.
It's the old story, there is hardly an urgent of need of Taiwan's that cannot be described as "not much to be done in terms of the government's actual strategizing framework." Historically Taiwan has been hit by tsunamis (source)....

What this list shows is that practically anywhere in Taiwan might be hit by a tsunami -- especially when you consider that tsunamis from elsewhere might well end up on our shores. Quakes can happen anywhere in the area -- the 1604 and 1661 tsunamis were generated by quakes in the Taiwan Strait. To get some idea of what places might be especially vulnerable, the rising sea level maps at will provide a rough view (a few articles on the government's quake warning programs, in place since the 1990s, are collected here). How high above the waterline are the nuke plants, which are all near the coast?

President Ma gave his answer to the emphatically bipartisan failing of disaster strategizing last year while engaging in pre-event CYA for an incoming typhoon:

President Ma Ying-jeou says local governments are responsible for disaster prevention, rescue efforts and evacuation plans. Ma's statement came Tuesday following a land warning against Typhoon Namtheun issued by the Central Weather Bureau a day earlier.

During his inspection of a disaster prevention center, Ma talked about the different tasks of the central and local governments.

"We've always held that local governments are responsible for disaster prevention and rescue while the central government offers support," said Ma. "The central government will provide data such as weather [conditions], so that local governments can fully grasp the situation. But local governments are in charge of implementing [disaster-related] plans. The central government will offer full support."

Nor is this just Ma, then-Premier Su said the same thing back in '04 after a mudslide, and asked -- of all authorities -- the Council of Agriculture to draw up evacuation plans.
Reacting to a mudslide triggered by Typhoon Haima which killed four members of the same family in Hsinchu County on the weekend, Minister of the Interior Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) yesterday said he had asked the Council of Agriculture to draw up a comprehensive evacuation plan for vulnerable areas.

"Disaster Prevention Law [災害防救法] Article 214 grants city mayors and county commissioners the right to forcibly evacuate. The responsibility to evacuate therefore falls on heads of local governments," Su said yesterday. "The central government's role is instead to offer weather-related information and provide assistance to local governments in the decision-making process."
Unfortunately quakes and tsunamis do not follow county boundaries and in any case cash-strapped local governments are too poor to carry out evacuations and then feed and house the survivors. Hopefully the next Administration will take this timely warning from Japan and start to get our own house in order.....
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Daniel A. Mong said...

Since most of Taiwan's population and political power seem to be concentrated on the west coast, they probably think, wrongly?, that they're immune from such disasters. Amazing since Danshui could the entrance channel to a powerful tsunami to Taipei. One thing though is that the way tectonic plates are positioned the tsunami has less changes of moving southward with significant power.
The Taiwanese should wake up and have a national system of warnings and emergency procedures.
Daniel A. Mong

Robert R. said...

"in any case cash-strapped local governments are too poor to carry out evacuations and then feed and house the survivors."

I'd be more worried that the local governments and whatever emergency infrastructure they have would be wiped out. If not the infrastructure than the people to actually carry out the tasks!

They're thinking that a town like Minamisanriku, where 50% of the populace is missing would have any capacities at this time?

Okami said...

You know this article actually made me feel better. Do you remember the people on the sandbar on the river? They were there all nonchalant waiting for the rescue helicopter that never came of course. They died, but it provides a good lesson that the govt can be trusted with nothing. Let's not forget the complete fubar Typhoon Naira made of the MRT in Taipei because turning on pumps is hard and stuff. I mean whenever the govt says they are coming to help; you should be very scared.

I can't even trust the cops to handle traffic properly. I sure as hell am not going to worry as I go all gangster and start looting the nearby stores. The lady at 7-11 better part with the rice, beer and Hello Kitty stickers!

Michael Turton said...

They're thinking that a town like Minamisanriku, where 50% of the populace is missing would have any capacities at this time?

Ha right.

J said...

Didn't the Bush administration also treat disaster relief as a "local" responsibility? We all know how that worked out. I would be curious though how this has played out historically in Taiwan: when disasters have happened, has the central government actually left things to the local government? In light of the public response to Morakot I would think doing so would be very unwise politically. No matter what the laws say people expect central gov't involvement.
What I really worry about after this isn't tsunamis but Taiwan's nuclear plants surviving earthquakes. If even Japan can't design earthquake-proof nuclear power plants, do we really think it's possible in Taiwan? Especially when three of Taiwan's are far closer to Taipei than Fukushima is to Tokyo.

Okami said...


Makes a great point, though he probably doesn't realize it. The City of New Orleans so badly mismanaged their governing duty and then somehow got it all thrown on the Bush Admin. The media at the time were too busy making up stories of rape, cannibalism and snipers. New Orleans had a fleet of empty school buses get flooded because they couldn't determine who could use them so they left them in a parking lot. Cops who were looting and calling in sick. Where if you look at the other effected areas such as Mississippi and Alabama, they did quite a bit better. It probably helped that they built their cities above sea level and hadn't politicized the levy system. New Orleans is now a charter school miracle city. They had to have an act of nature destroy their old school system in order to get their kids educated.

Having the local govt take control would make great sense if they are able to get the basics right(New Orleans fails/ed epically at that). I'd bet that if you asked the guys running things in any city of Changhua what they would do a week ago if it happened, they'd laugh you off. I'm even more positive that in 6 months they would laugh at you again for asking it. These guys have no idea what a drill is or why you do one.

I'd actually expect non-govt actors to step up if something were to happen here, such as the Matsu temple association, Changhua Christian hospital, and farmers' associations.

Anonymous said...

Page 6 of This pdf has a graphic indicating the plates under Taiwan.