Earthquake Hits Taiwan: How Strict Building Codes Averted a Larger Disaster

On April 3, Taiwan was hit by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake, the strongest one in 25 years. According to the latest reports, nine people have been killed, and at least 900 others have been injured by damaged buildings and landslides on the island. The seism was centered off the eastern coast of Hualien County, severely damaging buildings, some leaning at severe angles. However, the country’s strict building codes, developed in the past two decades in response to the area’s intense seismic activity, have prevented even more extensive damage and loss of life.

Located along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a line of seismic faults that generate most of the world’s earthquakes, Taiwan is particularly vulnerable in the face of natural disasters. The island’s mountainous landscape also contributes, as it can magnify the vibrations leading to landslides that endanger tunnels and highways.

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Taichung, Taiwan- August 22, 2023: Building view of the 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan in Taichung, Taiwan, here is one of the ruins destroyed by the 921 earthquakes.. Image © Jack Hong via Shutterstock

The country’s earthquake preparedness has been continuously improved over the last few decades, in reaction to past events. Among the most devastating ones, in 1999, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in central Taiwan killed nearly 2500 people, damaged over 50,000 buildings, and trapped thousands underneath the wreckage. The 921 Earthquake Museum of Taiwan was established to preserve some of the remains of the earthquake and to serve as a public reminder.

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Building codes represent an integral part of the strategy to improve Taiwan’s preparedness. Two years ago, new codes were implemented, requiring owners of vulnerable buildings to implement structural reinforcements to boost safety even for illegal modifications and constructions, until a long-term solution can be implemented. The government also offers subsidies for checking the building’s resilience, while strict regulations are imposed for both new and existing buildings, all contributing to creating resilience and protecting lives.

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aerial view of ruins of Wuchanggong temple when earthquake at september 21, 1999. Image © elwynn via Shutterstock

Taiwan’s earthquake preparedness is among the most advanced in the world. The island has implemented strict building codes, a world-class seismological network, and widespread public education campaigns on earthquake safety.” - Stephen Gao, a seismologist and professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology for APnews

Earthquake Hits Taiwan: How Strict Building Codes Averted a Larger Disaster - Image 3 of 4
The Xiangshan Observation Platform in Taipei, Taiwan is the best place to view the 101 Building and the greater Taipei area.. Image © Lin kent via Shutterstock

While the magnitude of the earthquake is similar to those that hit Syria and Turkey in February 2023, or the September 2023 earthquake in Morocco, the scale of the devastations appears to have been significantly lower on the Asian island. Experts assess that the relaxed building practices in Turkey and the reluctance to adapt the legislature to modern standards have contributed to the fragility of the built environment in the face of such natural disasters.

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Cite: Maria-Cristina Florian. "Earthquake Hits Taiwan: How Strict Building Codes Averted a Larger Disaster" 04 Apr 2024. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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