Stories from the field

Day 2016-10-23

Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 3: DRR in Taipei

At the end of September I flew down to Taipei to assist with the CITYNET Yokohama Project Office’s annual Disaster Cluster Seminar. The seminar had a number of sessions on different disaster related topics from disaster medicine to community-based disaster risk reduction. There were also four site visits that allowed seminar participants to see first hand Taipei’s disaster risk reduction undertakings.

Taipei is vulnerable to a wide array of hazards. They frequently have earthquakes, they are regularly hit by typhoons, and because of the city’s geography they experience flooding from heavy rainfalls. September is the middle of typhoon season in Asia and the day that I flew out of Tokyo, the city was hit by a typhoon leading to a very bumpy take-off. When I arrived in Taipei the weather was beautiful. I was there for 6 days and it didn’t rain once. Fortunately I was only there for 6 days because the following day Taipei was hit by the largest typhoon in recorded history. The entire city closed down for two days, winds were over 250km/h and there was 3 feet of rain in some parts of Northern Taiwan. After spending the past 6 days learning about Taipei’s DRRM undertakings in the city it was fascinating to then see them in action from afar.

One of the site visits that we had was to the Taipei Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC goes into full swing when an emergency is declared. The center has large television screens with live-stream cameras that help provide the city with live updates on the situation across the city. Taipei is dissected by a number of rivers and is surrounded by tall mountains. Because of the city’s variability of low-lying and highland, neighbourhoods in the city can be affected very differently so monitoring is extremely important. The building that houses the EOC is also considered the safest building in Taipei and has lots of anti-earthquake reinforcements. In a large scale earthquake the foundation is able to absorb a lot of the shock. There is also a helipad on the top, which we got to visit. It was easily the best view of the Taipei 101 tower.

There were also two visits to flood mitigation sites in the city . The first was called the Yuanshanzih Flood Channel and is a large-scale project that was funded by the national government. The size of the channel completely blew me away. It was 8 by 8 metres and diverted river water from going towards New Taipei City and led it to the ocean. It was not the prettiest project because it was grey and oppressive but it was clear just how necessary its construction was. This area of Taipei used to experience frequent flooding that regularly resulted in casualties. Since it’s construction in the mid 2000s there has been no flooding or casualties. We also visited a retention basin called Dago Stream Ecological Park. This was hands down my favourite part of the trip. It is a beautiful park that is used to hold floodwater during heavy rain. It is in a neighbourhood called Naha that used to experience lots of heavy flooding that would also often caused casualties. Since this project was completed there has been no flooding in the area or flood related casualties. What I loved the most about this flood retention basin is how it is dual-purpose. The design of the park preserves the river valley’s natural geography and is gorgeous. We visited on a sunny Sunday afternoon and the park was filled with people of all ages enjoying the park and the weather as a community. It was unbelievable to think that this park that was being used by hundreds to enjoy their afternoon picnics would be underwater 2 days later. The Dago Stream Ecological Park brought community members together during normal times and protected that same community from disaster.

The Disaster Cluster Seminar date coincided with National Disaster Prevention Day in Taiwan and we were able to go and check out the city’s organized activities. It was held at the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in downtown Taipei. Various NGOs, NPOs, and government agencies set up tents to spread awareness about their roles in disaster management and enhance public levels of preparedness. There were lots of children with their families and they could check out emergency vehicles, ride on an earthquake simulator and have a hands-on experience with life saving things that they could do at home to protect their families. The City of Taipei saw the event as the perfect time to release their first ever disaster prevention manual. There was a huge public ceremony that was attended by the mayor of Taipei and some of the city’s emergency personnel. The seminar participants were also provided with the honour of being a part of the unveiling ceremony. Public events like this are extremely important in raising awareness because passers-by, who may not have known about the event, can stop and check it out. The children who were participating in all the activities were laughing and enjoying themselves, there was even a dance competition where kids could perform a dance routine that illustrated the correct actions to take during an earthquake!

At the end of my six days in Taipei I was filled with lots of new knowledge and a love for the city. Taipei’s eagerness to share its best practices in disaster management and prevention was great to see. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who contributed to my ability to fly down and help out with the seminar. Being an intern at the CITYNET Yokohama Project Office is an incredible experience and I can’t thank the office or CAPI enough for providing me with this opportunity.  

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