Taiwan’s fragile geology, variable climate and frequent earthquakes and typhoons have produced many disasters over the last century. Taiwan is mostly made up of mountain ranges and people have been forced to populate and develop parts of them, leaving them vulnerable to damage from natural disasters.
As global climate change intensifies, serious disasters will become more frequent, but the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act (災害防救法) does not acknowledge or address this situation.
Article 3 of the Act, for example, lists the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Council of Agriculture, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications and the Environmental Protection Administration as the regulatory authorities for disaster prevention and protection — but not the Ministry of National Defense (MND).
The armed forces have always given strong support in disaster prevention and protection efforts at various levels of government and over the years have become an indispensable part of disaster prevention and protection.
As the government draws on its painful lessons and strengthens the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act and other disaster prevention and protection systems, it should recognize the importance of the armed forces and amend the Act to incorporate the experience they have gained from executing the Regulations for Applying for Military Disaster Support (申請國軍支援災害處理辦法).
The government should also consider introducing new legislation and regulations covering military support for such activities to improve the military’s capabilities in peacetime.
This way, the military can take an active role in times of disaster and actively support disaster relief efforts.
Second, to increase the responsibilities of commanding officers and the armed forces, legislation should be passed that equates military support for disaster prevention and protection with combat.
While the armed forces have played an extremely important role in disaster prevention and protection, it has never been part of their training.
This has led to the distribution of insufficient resources and a lack of equipment and personnel training.
This is also why we so often see soldiers using pickaxes and plastic buckets to clean up after disasters, and also why so many soldiers need counseling after participating in this work.
Disaster prevention and protection is also the best and most practical way to evaluate the overall combat readiness of the armed forces.
I suggest that the MND make preparations for disaster prevention and protection part of the military’s war preparations and training curriculum.
The ministry should coordinate with the Central Disaster Prevention and Protection Council and designate troop support zones and draw up a plan for disaster support using resources specific to the various branches of the military.
Article 9, Paragraph 1 of the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act stipulates that military representatives shall serve among a panel of officials and experts on disaster work on a part-time basis. “Military representatives” is a broad term, however, and the people selected may not have expert disaster prevention and protection training.
Current practice involves local command districts partnering with municipal or county-city governments.
However, these districts are part of the traditional system of reserve army mobilization and troops are not stationed there at regular times.
They are therefore unable to directly offer manpower to disaster work when needed. Requests for assistance still need to be transferred to other troops, which hampers the timeliness of disaster efforts.
Therefore, representatives of the armed forces with decision-making powers and resources at their disposal should act as committee members on disaster prevention and protection councils.
The Military Service Act (兵役法) governs the mobilization of reserve and replacement soldiers. It states that there are five types of mobilization — general, temporary, educational, regular-task and roll-call.
However, the armed forces sometimes lack personnel during disaster prevention and protection efforts.
I suggest that regulations be amended to empower the authorities to mobilize extra personnel for regular tasks pertinent to disaster work and that the restrictions of Article 37 of the Military Service Act not apply to the authorities in this case.
Lastly, Article 34, Paragraph 4 of the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act states that only regional governments and the central disaster prevention and protection authorities may request support from the armed forces for disaster work.
But when incidents are so serious that local emergency operations centers cannot make formal requests in time or when the central authorities themselves are compromised by damage resulting from the disaster, the armed forces should not have to wait for requests or go through levels of procedure before being allowed to dispatch troops and provide assistance.
Those involved with such assistance should, however, continue to report to their superiors according to the established chain of command so that personnel numbers can be monitored, thus allowing more adaptability in disaster work.
Liu Kung-chung is a professor in the Institute of Law for Science and Technology at National Tsing Hua University.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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