Cooperating to cope with disasters

By Lee Bing-jean 李秉乾  / 

Sat, Sep 07, 2013 - Page 8

As a result of global climate change, typhoons and torrential rains that hit the nation are becoming increasingly severe. Prolonged periods of heavy rainfall, combined with an already fragile geology, are making more complex “compound disasters” the new norm. Although we may be unable to prevent natural disasters, the government is responsible for finding ways to reduce the impact of such disasters.

Tropical Storm Kong-Rey, which hit the nation late last month, was a special case.

It was difficult to predict the path and impact of the storm: There was no wind or rain near the center of the storm in northeastern Taiwan, but the southwest experienced torrential rainfall.

As the clouds and rains gradually moved north, the disaster zone moved from the Hengchun Peninsula in Pingtung County on Taiwan’s southern tip to the Badouzih Fishery Harbor in Keelung in the north. Most of the problems occurred in slopes along traffic routes.

Taiwan is small, but densely populated. For the sake of economic development, many transportation projects must pass through geologically fragile areas. Because of torrential rainfall, even relatively safe railways were recently damaged by mudslides. Nowadays, natural disasters are no longer limited to one place at one time, but rather occur nationwide.

The government must cooperate with industry and academia to conduct a comprehensive diagnosis of sediment-related disasters around the nation.

They should monitor mountain slopes along key traffic routes to evaluate the possibility of landslides at each section of the road and draw up disaster-prevention strategies.

Take railway lines for example: Although it is necessary to send patrols to monitor the different railway lines, these patrols may be unable to detect problems in a timely manner.

However, if they could employ the newest vibration monitoring technology and place vibration sensors at high-risk sections, in the event of a mudslide they can immediately report the incident to the railway operations control center so that running trains can take precautions. Placing rainfall gauges and soil moisture sensors on the slopes at such sections would be good early warning devices.

Take the huge rock that recently fell from a hill near the Badouzih Fishery Harbor as another example. If patrols had carried out airborne inspections using unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with cameras or light detection and ranging equipment, they would have detected the potential threat, blocked the road and destroyed the rock.

All this disaster monitoring information can be included into disaster prevention and relief platforms in the public and private sectors to be used to support decisionmaking.

The same information can be shared via the Internet, so that emergency centers at every level of government can access it, allowing them to share resources and take immediate action.

In the face of drastic climate change, agencies at every level of the central and local governments should share resources and work together to face the challenges posed by Mother Nature.

Lee Bing-jean is the president of Feng Chia University.

Translated by Eddy Chang