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In today’s bulletin, Charlie discusses the devastating earthquake that has hit Taiwan and highlights the importance of ‘lessons learned’ after a disaster.

We are accustomed to witnessing mass casualties from earthquakes. The Turkey earthquake, reported to have killed 56,000 people in February 2023 and the Morocco earthquake in September of the same year, which claimed approximately 3,000 lives, serve as reminders. The 7.4 magnitude earthquake in Taiwan on Wednesday 3rd April has so far resulted in twelve deaths, with eighteen individuals missing. Taiwan also endured a devastating earthquake in September 1999, measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale, which claimed 2,400 lives, injured about 100,000, destroyed thousands of buildings, and caused £10 billion worth of damage. Following the earthquake, there was an outcry around building standards and infrastructure quality, which contributed to building and infrastructure collapses, resulting in numerous deaths. It was also recognised that there was a need to improve post-quake response through public and specialist training for emergency and civil defence volunteers. Additionally, it was acknowledged that old buildings needed to undergo structural assessments and improvements to enhance their resilience to earthquakes. Consequently, Taiwanese building codes were enhanced to ensure new buildings are more earthquake-resistant.

Public outcry often follows government failures to adequately prepare for known risks, resulting in mass casualty events. Subsequently, reports with recommendations are generated post-disaster. However, the implementation of these recommendations often fails. Politicians or business leaders cite reasons such as the expense, it being too difficult, or complex, leading to a repetition of similar mass casualty events years or decades later, where the same lessons are ‘rediscovered’.

A example of this is the recommendation following the King’s Cross Fire of November 1987, where 31 people perished, highlighting the hampered emergency services response due to ineffective underground communication. This communication challenge resurfaced during the response to the London 7/7 bombing in 2005, resulting in 52 fatalities. In emergency planning and business continuity, there is a well-known phrase: it is not just about ‘lessons learned’ after a disaster, but ‘lessons identified’, as often, lessons are merely identified but not implemented in future similar responses.

In the Taiwanese earthquake, the significant reduction in building collapses and casualties can be attributed to improvements in building codes, the implementation of public earthquake drills, and the swift response of emergency services. Among the casualties was a lady who re-entered a damaged building to rescue her cat, only for the building to collapse during an aftershock. Some of the missing individuals were hikers in an area severely affected by the quake, both lots of casualties here seemed to be plain unlucky.

My takeaway from this incident is that there must be a commitment to implementing lessons from previous disasters and enhancing societal resilience. When the next disaster inevitably strikes, particularly in earthquake-prone areas, the devastation and casualties can be greatly reduced. Transitioning from 2,400 deaths to possibly under 25 is a significant achievement and illustrates what can be accomplished through proactive measures.

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