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Sun, Oct 10, 1999 - Page 2 News List

Lawmakers debate proactive quake policies

LEARNING LESSONS Opposition legislators have proposed a civilian defense bill which could help reduce the impact of earthquakes and other natural disasters

By Lauren Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

Unless it is forgotten, past experience can act as a valuable guide for the future -- and in the wake of the 921 earthquake, such experience can provide a chance to fully examine Taiwan's existing emergency rescue system, analysts say.

That was the message at a public hearing held by DPP legislators Lin Cho-shui (林濁水) and Lee Wen-chung (李文忠) which aimed to look at measures which could strengthen the institutions that undertake relief work.

While the media has pointed its finger at the government's inability to take precautions against natural calamities since the 921 earthquake, Lin said the government's failure was in lacking efficient civil defense mobilization and a legal framework for disaster prevention and recovery.

Lin yesterday put forward a draft form of a civilian defense bill (民防法), intended to grant local authorities the right to directly command the military under a state of emergency.

In Lin's version of the bill, two main articles stand out.

Article 4 states: during a state of emergency local county chiefs can demand military authorities in the area to support related rescue work.

Article 9 states: non-governmental rescue associations can also be given some authority in order to coordinate the relief process.

"After the 921 catastrophe, local governments are lying in a near-paralyzed state, with the current relief efforts being operated under a multi-organizational mechanism. Although the military's rescue work is somewhat efficient, they are still unfamiliar with the local environment. If local chiefs can exercise the right of command for the military's efforts, then to an extent it could solve these problems,'' Lin said.

Although President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) said last Tuesday it was unneccesary to establish an independent structure similar to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the US, DPP lawmaker Lee Wen-chung yesterday urged the central government to promote the Fire Administration, its budget and supplies of equipment.

"In particular, the Fire Administration has to bring nuclear disasters, earthquakes and chemical calamities into their routine practice of preparation, if it wants to upgrade its status as a so-called general agency of fire and rescue,'' said Lee.

Participants at the hearing unanimously agreed that the 921 earthquake reflected the fact that funding of relief organizations had been inadequate. Also, that there was a lack of professional specialists dedicated to relief efforts.

"To use the seriously damaged Chungliao township (中寮鄉) in Nantou County as an example: in peacetime, there were only seven staff members at the local fire department. On the day the earthquake hit, no more than four or five workers were actually on duty. Such a low level of professional personnel would never be capable of dealing with such a large scale catastrophe,'' said Chang Kuan-yung (張寬永), a construction engineering professor at National Taipei University of Tech-nology.

Chang also brought up the unpredictability of earthquakes and measures that need to be taken, especially in urban areas. "The government has to draw up rescue and evacuation routes, while at the same time building up all sorts of information and resource data banks, to be put in reserve for when they are needed.''

Chang said that according to government statistics the Fire Administration's expenses last year reached approximately NT$9,00 million. This figure is in stark contrast with the total losses from the 921 earthquake, which could reach NT$1 trillion.

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