By Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

Taiwan earthquake: Lessons on composure, resiliency, preparedness

“It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark”- Howard Ruff

Last April 3, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck the east coast of Taiwan. Reportedly the strongest in 25 years, the said earthquake caused several buildings to collapse and mountains to crumble. One of the many things that struck people around the globe, while watching videos of the said massive earthquake, were scenes of Taiwanese being calm and composed during the quake.

There is this now viral footage of a news reporter continuing to give her report live on air while the studio was shaking around her. Several videos showed motorcycle riders calmly waiting on a bridge while it rocked violently, nurses intently looking after infants in cribs while debris fell around them, train riders calmly sitting while the train was swaying, a grandfather watching tv, and ordinary citizens standing still while waiting for the tremors to stop.

Having lived in Taiwan for a couple of years, I can attest to the fact that this is normal behavior for Taiwanese during emergencies. A few years ago, I was in a hotel outside of Taipei when a fire alarm suddenly blared at 1 a.m. while everyone was presumably sleeping. As I stepped out of our room, I was amazed at how the other guests were quickly but calmly going down the designated exits. There were no histrionics, shouting, or any of the normal signs of panic. A few days before I left my post in Taiwan, I also had the misfortune of being smack dab in the epicenter of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake with vertical tremors and an accompanying strange sound that resembled that of stones grinding. I was about to go out of the building but the Taiwanese official beside me held me down and advised me not to move and wait for the tremors to stop. As I looked around, I was surprised at how eerily calm and collected everyone was in the room. Some of them were even eating and chatting with each other.

In addition to being calm during the last earthquake, the Taiwanese people also displayed their highly swift and efficient rescue system when their emergency response team immediately began rescuing people trapped while the buildings were still swaying. The calm demeanor and preparedness displayed by the Taiwanese are the result of decades of multi-faceted preparation. The Taiwanese have learned from past disasters and prepared accordingly.

Taiwanese begin their emergency drills at an early age in school which continues unabated till adulthood. The government conducts several drills that simulate everything from earthquakes to missile attacks. Their emergency phone alerts and air raid sirens have the same sound for any emergency thus forcing people to take every alert and siren seriously. Shelters are designated and several visual cues and signs can be seen all over cities showing the locations of these emergency shelters.

To foreigners, these emergency drills and reminders of every possible threat evoke not a small amount of trepidation and even concern. To the Taiwanese, these constant drills and reminders allow the Taiwanese to be mentally prepared for emergencies. They understand that being calm, composed, and alert during emergencies allow them to make rational decisions during these moments of stress.

It must be noted that after the initial tremors stopped, it was business as usual for the Taiwanese. No holiday or day for recovery was declared by the government. They literally dusted themselves off and started all over again. This, for me, shows how resiliency has also embedded itself into Taiwanese culture.

We in the Philippines would do well to take note of their preparedness and resiliency. Several scientists in our country have already warned us that we are due for a big earthquake. While we do conduct drills in schools and offices, there are some who observe that many Filipinos do not take these drills seriously and are even irritated when drills are conducted. I remember an incident in one municipality when people complained of the flood siren because it “scared them” and demanded that the use of such sirens be discontinued.

Other than earthquakes and natural disasters, we must also consider the possibility of man-made emergencies similar to the constant threat that Taiwan faces. There is an urgent need to take these drills seriously and prepare ourselves.

Yesterday, we celebrated Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) in honor of our greatest generation who, when the hour of need arrived, rose to the challenge and defended our country during those dark days of World War 2. The Filipinos of that time have proven that as a race, we do not lack for courage and resilience. We hope that when the time comes that an emergency, natural or man-made arrives, we can also show to the world that we are made of sterner stuff. Perhaps, it is time to really come together and get ready.

This is my oblique observation.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

ATTY. GILBERTO LAUENGCO, J.D. is a lawyer, educator, political strategist, government consultant, Lego enthusiast, and the director of CAER Think Tank. He is a Former Vice Chairman of MECO, Special Assistant of NFA and City Administrator among others. His broad experience has molded his unique approach to issues analysis which he calls the oblique observation.