Excellent crises plan in Taiwan saves lives

THOUGH 2010 seems to be a year of earthquakes, the US Geological Survey calculates that there are on average 134 earthquakes every year with a magnitude of 6,0 to 6,9 on the Richter scale.

While the death toll in earthquakes and other natural forces is somewhat "hit-or-miss", proper planning and preparation can play a vital part in reducing casualties.

The enforcement of strict civil engineering standards is one precautionary measure - the mantra of seismologists worldwide being: "Earthquakes don't kill people, buildings do."

The earthquake hat struck Taiwan on March 4 was classified as 6,4 or "strong", but no lives were lost. This can be attributed in part to Taiwan's strictly enforced building codes and well-established institutional structure around earthquakes.

Taiwan's National Centre for Research on Earthquake Engineering is responsible for developing technology to mitigate the impact of seismic events, focusing on preparation, emergency response and post-earthquake recovery.

In the wake of severe flooding caused by Typhoon Morakot last year, Taiwan has fine-tuned its emergency disaster response mechanisms to the highest level.

On March 4 the army, fire-fighters, helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft were dispatched to the affected areas within minutes of the earthquake striking.

They now aim to establish "early warning systems" that will be triggered in the time lag between primary and secondary seismic waves. This translates to roughly 20 seconds of warning time for a shallow quake 160km away.

Greg Lishman, Bryanston