Since Russia invaded Ukraine and China escalated live-fire military drills around Taiwan, some residents of Taiwan have been asking what to do if the nation comes under attack.
The Executive Yuan in late February said local police departments every year gather information about air-raid shelters in their precincts and publish it on the National Police Agency’s Web site and mobile app.
Local police departments launched an air-raid evacuation and shelter promotion page on their Web sites in November 2020, allowing the public to find maps marking shelter locations — mostly in basements of public facilities or large private buildings — along with their capacities and basic guidelines for evacuation.
There are more than 105,000 air-raid shelters across the nation, with capacity to accommodate 86.65 million people — nearly four times the nation’s population.
In Taipei and several other cities, yellow “air-raid shelter facility” labels can be found on the outside of buildings designated as shelters, with their capacities listed.
The Ministry of National Defense in April also published a civil defense handbook template, aimed at informing how the public should take shelter during a national crisis, as well as safety response measures for major emergencies such as airstrikes, building collapses, power outages and water shortages. It also provides an emergency kit checklist for people to prepare during peacetime.
However, the published information was not very reassuring to many people. They questioned whether the shelters were still safe and intact, as many are being used by private owners for storage.
A report by the Legislative Yuan issued in June also said that although there are more air-raid shelters in Taiwan than in Japan and South Korea, the government tends to focus on documenting numbers and conducting spot inspections when it receives tips of suspected illegal use.
The report recommended amending regulations to stipulate that building administrations maintain the safety of the space and equip it with basic life support items. It said that civil defense organizations should be responsible for regular inspections.
The handbook template was also widely criticized by experts as being oversimplified and lacking sufficient practical tips for civilians. Some of its instructions include scanning QR codes and calling hotlines, which would be impractical in wartime. The defense ministry in May said it had collected 97 suggestions and it plans to finish revising the handbook this month.
Although the revised handbook has not yet been released, the management of air-raid shelters in peacetime could be improved. Guidelines for the management and maintenance of air-raid shelter facilities state that the designated basements can be used for other purposes in peacetime, but they must be cleared out for people to take refuge in the event of an alarm. However, they do not stipulate a time frame. This should be clarified.
In Sweden, building owners are required to empty the shelters within 48 hours of an emergency, while in Finland, the law requires shelters to be cleared out for use within 72 hours after the government signals an emergency.
In response to public concerns that most shelters are private property, the government should enhance public communication.
Borough wardens could help instruct residents to find their nearest shelters and encourage owners of basement shelters to nominate an individual to oversee the maintenance and inspection of their shelter. Laws could also be revised to ensure that authorities are proactively supervising civil defense preparedness in peacetime.
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