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HOME > CENTRAL TAIWAN > TAICHUNG > ARTICLES >

COMPASS MAGAZINE, JANUARY 2000. VOL. 7 ISSUE 1

Taiwan Earthquake Advice from an Expert

Participants at Taichung AmCham's packed-out November Dinner Meeting on November 30 received plenty of valuable information about earthquakes and buildings, thanks to a presentation by guest speaker Andrew Houng, of AHA Architecture Company.

Houng, a Taichung-based US-educated architect, worked for years in quake-prone Los Angeles and provided much-needed consulting services to the city's foreign and Chinese communities in the wake of the 921 earthquake. Using slides, the architect illustrated various building structural failures following the quake and spoke about safe and unsafe buildings.

Although steel-framed buildings, using I-beam girders, were considered the safest high-rise structures, Houng said that the vast majority of Taiwan buildings were built using reinforced concrete (RC). While the integrity of older buildings might be questioned, he said that structures constructed this decade followed the Universal Building Code and that, from 1997, buildings were required to follow US building codes. After the quake, Taichung had been reclassified from a "medium-quake area" to "heavy-quake area," necessitating tougher codes.

This meant that any structure completed by about 2000 should be considered very safe. Nevertheless, Houng noted that 99 percent of Taichung's buildings survived the quake with no serious problems, adding that the city had the best geological foundations on the island. The one advantage of RC buildings was the fact that any structural damage was revealed externally. During his post-quake inspections of buildings, Houng said that he only needed to use a flashlight, a level and a pencil. The level was used to check whether walls remained straight. Any crack big enough to take more than a pencil lead should be examined more closely, he said. He also stressed that damage to main supporting pillars and connecting horizontal beams, versus non-load-bearing walls, was the main factor in safety.

In the event of a major quake, Houng provided a couple points of advice: 1) If you can move, open your exit door. Quake damage can jam doors shut, preventing escape; 2) Hug a pillar, preferably ones towards the inside versus the outside walls. Main vertical support pillars (connected to overhead beams) are the strongest support elements in RC buildings. However, if pillars or beams started seriously cracking, Houng simply advised his audience to "get out of there".

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