Fri, Mar 16, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Enlist public to up quake resistance

By Chuang Chun-wei 莊均緯

It is not until an earthquake occurs and causes damage that the public starts paying attention to construction safety and the quake resistance of buildings. Following each string of massive earthquakes, the government has initiated post-quake investigations, reviews and evaluations, as well as rounds of studies conducted by academics, professional technicians and engineers.

Based on these investigative reports, the government has gradually reinforced regulations on the seismic design specifications for buildings, home safety proposals, measures for evaluating and bolstering earthquake resistance and the Statute for Expediting Reconstruction of Urban Unsafe and Old Buildings (都市危險及老舊建築物加速重建條例), in the hope of encouraging citizens to apply for quake-resistance evaluations of privately owned buildings. When a structure is deemed insufficiently quake resistant, it is to be structurally reinforced or reconstructed, to guarantee the personal safety of the residents of all buildings.

There are obstacles in implementing these measures, not least because they inevitably involve private property rights. If the government were to make evaluation of buildings’ quake resistance mandatory, it would have to factor in the cost of conducting such evaluations. The real concern is not so much the additional cost in the administrative budget as the potential for a fall in property prices when potential structural safety problems are discovered during such evaluations.

What is more, the sheer cost and time that would need to be spent to structurally reinforce or reconstruct buildings poses particular challenges, as it would require bringing together the residents and multiple owners of an apartment building, and there is of course the likelihood that less well-off residents would be able to afford neither the time nor the financial burden such changes might incur.

There are, for example, many communities whose buildings are made of sub-standard concrete, so-called “sea-sand buildings,” which have long been deemed highly problematic, but little has been done to reinforce or reconstruct these buildings. Policies to reinforce structural quake resistance instituted by the government, with the accompanying incentives and measures, are positive steps, yet it is extremely difficult to meet everyone’s requirements.

On Feb. 26, the Executive Yuan held a news conference on the matter, during which it announced a five-point plan including expedited screening, quake-resistance assessments, reinforcement and reconstruction of dangerous buildings, staged structural improvements and financial assistance measures.

At the conference, the Cabinet said that expedited screening would target buildings constructed before Dec. 31, 1999 — when a more stringent construction code was introduced following the devastating 921 Earthquake — to filter out buildings with higher potential risks.

The Cabinet also said it plans to revise Article 77 of the Building Act (建築法) to allow the government to order compulsory reconstruction or reinforcement of building structures that do not comply with the act; to require the provision of fire prevention and escape facilities, as well as fire-fighting equipment, as stipulated in the latest version of the act; and to fine owners for non-compliance.

The proposals raised concerns among the public, with some asking who would be responsible if property prices were hit after safety concerns are raised as a result of the evaluations, while others said such checks would do little good if people could not afford to pay for improvements.

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