Today was our last day in Taiwan. Our morning was spent in Taipei debriefing with the National Center for Earthquake Engineering (NCREE). We focused on the damage patterns we saw at the sites we visited. We noted that most damaged buildings were constructed twenty to thirty years ago. They were all non-ductile concrete and more often than not had a torsion and weak story deficiency. In simple terms, these buildings have column and wall configurations that cause them to move excessively in a lateral and twisting fashion during a seismic event. Unfortunately, the buildings don’t have the strength to endure these displacements. Looking at the building failures also made us realize how important it is to have a seismic program for existing buildings in our communities. In California we have many of these types of buildings that were built prior to 1980. Here in Taiwan a single building collapse caused most of the devastation, killing 114 people, fracturing the main water line to part of the city, and closing one the city’s main streets to which it collapsed onto. It is hard to imagine what would happen if a similar tragedy happened in one of our cities.
On the positive side, we were very impressed with the resiliency and spirit of the people in Taiwan. The hospitals were properly coordinated with the field staff to treat the injured in an expeditious manner. The government ordered that the demolition of the main building collapse take priority and be immediately addressed so that the bodies be recovered for their families. The building was completely removed in a span of 7 days (Yes, all 16 stories and a basement!). The engineering community was also very united. During our trip we met with one of the lead engineers with their structural engineering association who informed us that for 72 hours they organized a team of engineers to be at the site directing the rescue team as to how to demolish the building without causing a safety concern. Other engineering teams from NCREE and the National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) were also sent to observe the damaged areas and collect data that could be used in future engineering studies. The main water source (about a 6 foot diameter steel pipe) was also temporarily re-routed above grade in less than 7 days. Our entire team was impressed with on how quickly and organized the community responded to the event.
There is no question that the earthquake was a devastating event, killing 116 people and damaging over 80 buildings. Our team’s goal was to visit the damaged sites and to learn and to share the findings with the engineering community. However, during the process we learned more than just buildings. We also learned how kind and cooperative the Taiwanese people are. They opened their doors and arms when we arrived, provided us with a guide, gave us presentations and information on the damaged sites, offered us survey equipment, and even arranged dinners and lunches for us. Their goal is to be as open as possible and to learn from each other’s expertise.
Our meeting (and trip) ended with them showing us their state of the art shake table facility. We also got to see one of Jiun-Wei’s testing specimens when he worked at NCREE many years ago, and of course we could not leave without visiting Taipei 101.