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Taiwan government to step up building safety requirements

At present, the law requires inspections of buildings such as hotels, shopping malls and department stores for fire hazards but not seismic hazards

Marshall Hotel

Marshall Hotel (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (CNA) -- Taiwan's government intends to require or encourage seismic hazard assessments of commercial and residential buildings and their reinforcement as necessary to prevent the deadly collapse of structures in earthquakes.

Wang Jung-ching (王榮進), the acting director-general of the Construction and Planning Agency under the Ministry of the Interior, said the government plans to revise the "Regulations for Building Safety Inspecting and Reporting" to make seismic hazard assessments of commercial buildings compulsory.

At present, the law requires inspections of buildings such as hotels, shopping malls and department stores for fire hazards but not seismic hazards.

The mandatory checks are essential, Wang said, to ensure they can withstand natural disasters.

The proposed change to existing laws comes amid renewed concerns about the integrity of old buildings in Taiwan after the magnitude 6.0 earthquake that struck Hualien on Feb. 6 caused the partial collapse of four buildings.

One of them was a 40-year-old hotel and another was a mixed-use building housing both a hotel and residential units.

Similar concerns were raised two years ago when a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Tainan on Feb. 6, 2016 toppled a big apartment building, leading to more than 100 deaths.

Wang said the government has conducted seismic hazard assessments on almost all 27,000 government buildings and schools in Taiwan since then and fortified about 60 percent of the 9,837 structures that were found to need reinforcement.

The plan now is to turn to privately owned buildings, first targeting commercial venues where large numbers of people congregate, which is why the government plans to require compulsory inspections.

But the proposed amendment would not make it compulsory to reinforce those buildings found to be vulnerable to earthquakes, according to Wang.

As for residential buildings, the government intends to continue using incentives to encourage seismic hazard assessments of old residential buildings, according to Cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇), who was speaking at the same press conference.

Hsu said the Ministry of the Interior has allocated NT$210 million (US$7.12 million) this year in subsidies for structural assessments of residential buildings of 30 years or more and the costs of planning those buildings' reinforcement or reconstruction.

The government will provide NT$6,000 to NT$8,000 in subsidies for preliminary seismic hazard assessments of residential buildings, up to NT$400,000 for detailed seismic hazard assessments, and NT$55,000 for planning the reconstruction of a building.

There are nearly 4 million households in Taiwan living in such buildings across Taiwan, Hsu said, and many of them in Taipei are particularly vulnerable because they sit in areas with a strong potential for soil liquefaction, where soil loses its strength and stiffness in an earthquake.

According to Hsu, the government hopes to push through the reconstruction of 500 old buildings this year, which is expected to help 10,000 families.