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Applications of Advanced Technology for Earthquake Damage Mitigation: The Meinong Earthquake Event as an Example

On February 6, 2016, a devastating earthquake struck near the area of Meinong, Kaohsiung at 3:57 AM which woke up most of the population in southern Taiwan. This event caused severe damage, with 117 deaths and 551 injuries. The catastrophic collapse of the Weiguan Jinlong building in Tainan city with 115 fatalities, shown in Figure 1, was the single worst aspect of the earthquake.

Figure 1. The Weiguan Jinlong building collapsed during the Meinong Earthquake event on February 6, 2016.

Taiwan is located in a complex tectonic area with frequent seismic activity that affects everyone on the island. Since the Chi-Chi earthquake event happened on September 21, 1999, which destroyed multiple buildings and caused a high number of fatalities, the National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering (NCREE) of the National Applied Research Laboratories (NARLabs) has been collaborating with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Transportation and Communications, and other county and city government agencies to implement the Earthquake Mitigation Plan, including (1) Conducting seismic evaluations and retrofit buildings for safety; (2) Using the Earthquake Early Warning System (EEWS) for damage reduction; and (3) Applying the Taiwan Earthquake Loss Estimation System (TELES) to help first responders with rescue activities. Such advanced technology systems have provided remarkable achievements in earthquake damage mitigation.

Through the Seismic Evaluation and Retrofit Project of School Buildings over the past few years, NCREE has facilitated conducting retrofit projects for more than 4,000 school buildings to meet the life safety requirements of protecting against earthquake disasters for another 475 years. The damage report of the Meinong earthquake event revealed that the retrofit project has improved school buildings substantially, leading to a considerable reduction of life and economic losses. In addition, the EEWS developed by NCREE, covering 236 local schools and science and industrial parks, provided early warnings across the island during the Meinong earthquake event and enabled prevention and protective responses ahead of time.

When an earthquake occurs, first responders and disaster prevention and protection agencies must immediately identify the damage locations and severity levels and act accordingly. The TELES, developed by NCREE, took only 1 minute after receiving report of the Meinong earthquake from the Central Weather Bureau to analyze the possible consequences and damage locations and transmit text-message reports for first responders and relevant agencies to use for rescue activities.

The Seismic Evaluation and Retrofit Project of School Buildings, the EEWS, and the TELES have markedly improved structural safety and damage prevention, reduction, and mitigation practices. NCREE is planning to extend the applications of the aforementioned systems from school buildings and science and industrial parks to first responders’ facilities such as hospitals and police stations, public buildings such as movie theatres and shopping malls, R&D centers, office buildings, and residential structures. Applications of these advanced systems are expected to lead to tremendous improvements in earthquake damage mitigation, and contribute considerably toward a reliable and sustainable society in the presence of seismic activity.

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