Kirsten Lianne Mae Dedase

亞太堅韌研究基金會 研究員

It was only my second week in Taiwan when the island welcomed me with a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. I was getting ready for work when the earthquake struck off the coast of Hualien County at 7:58 a.m. on April 3. It was the strongest since the “921 Earthquake” hit central Taiwan on September 21, 1999. Yet, I went about my workday wondering just how Taipei was able to swiftly restart its metro system. How was Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSMC) able to immediately resume its operations? Taiwan’s disaster response may not be perfect, but it has come a long way since the 921 earthquake, which killed approximately 2,400 people.[i]

There are valuable lessons that my country, the Philippines, can learn from Taiwan’s enhanced disaster management after the 1999 earthquake. In the Philippines, which lies in the Pacific Ring of Fire with Taiwan, most people are in high-risk areas, such as Metro Manila, working and living in high-rise buildings. The country is continually warned of the impending “Big One,” a colossal earthquake long predicted to strike Metro Manila.[ii] Moreover, disaster resilience in both Taiwan and the Philippines requires the involvement of the private sector, public sector, and civil society to enact business continuity plans (BCPs), strengthen infrastructure, and ensure stakeholder engagement from the national to the community level. Actions that can bridge the inequality gap, institutionalize disaster risk insurance, and remove silos among sectors and between communities and governments will be crucial for enhancing not only disaster resilience but also economic, institutional, and societal resilience.

Effective BCPs are crucial for businesses to weather operational disruptions and maintain financial stability. TSMC, the world’s largest chip manufacturer, remarkably restored 70% of its suspended operations 10 hours after the April 3 earthquake.[iii] Learning from the 1999 quake, TSMC developed its BCP in 2000, with specific protocols against earthquakes, including the installation of dampers, antiseismic technologies, and early warning systems.[iv] Other manufacturing companies in the global semiconductor value chain resumed normal operations within the day. Wafer Works, for example, reported that their operations were restored within only 12 hours of the earthquake following their BCP protocols.[v] Meanwhile, United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC), with an institutionalized BCP since 1999,[vi] announced that the April 3 earthquake had “no material impact” on its operations.[vii] Businesses in the Philippines could adopt similar models to enhance their earthquake resilience. In particular, organizations should ensure that their existing BCPs are not limited to call trees and earthquake simulations but include thorough and continued consultations with experts to further enhance their earthquake resistance.

The infrastructure system is another area where Taiwan excels, although it has had its fair share of setbacks. Taipei’s metro system resumed services at most stations less than an hour after the April 3 earthquake. On the other hand, it will take a year to restore some train services in New Taipei, with shuttle buses running on the affected routes until the damage could be repaired.[viii] Most telecommunication systems experienced hiccups during the earthquake; although signals were restored almost immediately in the capital city, areas closer to the epicenter, such as Yilan and Hualien counties, experienced major disruptions. More than 100 of Taiwan’s telecommunications base stations required repairs in these areas.[ix] The Philippines can draw from Taiwan’s experiences by equipping itself to quickly restore basic services, such as public transportation and telecommunications, which are imperative for quick recovery. To avoid a repeat of the 2017 scenario, marked by rampant glitches in train operations, which hampered daily travel of commuters in Metro Manila,[x] operational plans and the stockpiling of sufficient spare parts are crucial to ensure that public services are restored quickly.

In addition to swift restoration of basic infrastructure services, ensuring the rigidity of buildings and structures is one of the critical disaster preparedness measures. Taiwan has proven this with only 5 buildings recorded as extremely damaged and requiring tearing down as of April 9, 2024.[xi] This is attributed to the implementation of both strict building codes and seismic safety regulations,[xii] learning from the 1999 earthquake, wherein more than 50,000 buildings were reportedly damaged or destroyed.[xiii] In the Philippines, a proposal to amend the current National Building Code of 1977 is underway, with the congress approval of House Bill 8500 or the “New Philippine Building Act.”[xiv] The proposed bill aims to integrate structural components that can withstand earthquakes and other hazards. However, even with the existing building code, compliance remains an issue,[xv] with an insufficient budget and understaffed building inspectors cited as reasons.[xvi] While these issues are valid, the consequences would be more expensive if the Philippines does not act now to make their structures more earthquake resilient.[xvii]

Both the Philippines and Taiwan have high levels of stakeholder engagement in disaster preparedness and response. This is especially important because an active civil society is required to increase a country’s resilience.[xviii] Founded in Taiwan, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, a global NGO and humanitarian frontrunner, is a good model of mission-driven stakeholder engagement. The organization provides disaster relief transcending differences in race and religion, not just in Taiwan but even abroad, including the Philippines.[xix] In carrying out their mission, Tzu Chi proactively partners with the government as they help communities by rebuilding permanent houses and even non-Buddhist churches, engaging the disaster victims in cash-for-work activities, and providing medical relief to the disaster-stricken communities.[xx] Locally, Tzu Chi has an MOU with the Hualien municipal government on disaster relief and support personnel training.

Another exhibit of stakeholder engagement is through participation in earthquake drills. Since the 1999 earthquake, Taiwanese institutions and schools have conducted annual “921 drills” every September 21st. Similarly, in the Philippines, random earthquake simulations are conducted with the government for both citizens and emergency responders. For instance, my previous employer, through government coordination, conducted unannounced call tree simulations and random earthquake drills, so when the 2019 Luzon earthquake rocked our office, we were prepared. Various stakeholders in the Philippines, including the government, academia, and NGOs, have been collaborating to step up preparedness and mitigation strategies, including probabilistic hazard and risk mapping and early warning systems. Efforts are also underway to connect national preparedness measures with communities by using local data and involving communities in participatory planning.

The Philippines must strive to not only ensure active collaboration across sectors but also provide social safety nets to effectively prepare for disasters. Unlike in Taiwan, 25 million people in the Philippines live below the poverty line.[xxi] Despite experiencing the same storm during disasters, Philippine society sails on different boats. Those in poverty cannot prioritize community disaster resilience if they struggle to stay afloat even without a disaster. If it wants to come close to Taiwan’s best practices in disaster preparedness and response, the government must strive to address the socioeconomic disparities facing the country now and be prepared to help the most vulnerable.

Both Taiwan and the Philippines are at a pivotal juncture in disaster risk management, where policy discussions can no longer be conducted in silos and must consider how disaster resilience enhances resilience across society. For example, to minimize economic losses and maintain people’s purchasing power, disaster management should be integrated into BCPs. This is not limited to natural hazards like earthquakes and typhoons; during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines’ most vulnerable businesses, especially micro, small, and medium enterprises, lacked BCPs, with most actions being reactive rather than proactive. This highlights how a strain in health resilience can limp an entire economy’s resilience.[xxii]

The implementation of disaster risk insurance systems in the public sector not only enables economic resilience in sectors vulnerable to natural hazards but also promotes institutional (government) and societal resilience. Formally established in 2002 because of the 1999 earthquake, Taiwan has a public residential earthquake insurance, also known as the Taiwan Residential Earthquake Insurance Fund (TREIF). The institution manages a basic pool of funds coming from policy premiums, which can cover claims up to NT$5 billion (~US$153 million), and exceeding that amount, the government and the market (i.e., domestic, reinsurance, and capital markets) share the risk.[xxiii]A government-supported insurance system, such as the TREIF, not only ensures public accessibility to asset protection but also cushions the cautious risk appetite of the private sector and its citizens.

The Philippines may create a similar public insurance system. A prerequisite for a successful insurance system is institutional resilience, wherein the system’s long-term sustainability is guaranteed through the proper allocation and utilization of public funds. With the institutional capacity to support and share risks with the market in carrying out insurance, governmental resilience can foster societal resilience through increased accessibility at the grassroots level and strengthened public–private partnerships. In short, resilience is multifaceted and interdependent, with resilience in one sector boosting resilience in another.

Embracing a comprehensive and interconnected approach can enhance overall resilience in the Asia-Pacific region and proactively break down silos across government and society. The key to thriving in the face of adversity is to learn from one another in the region, foster communication, and promote innovation. Indeed, in our journey toward resilience, no one should be left behind—especially the Pearl of the Orient Seas, my ever-smiling home, the Philippines.


The author extends her immense gratitude to Siwei Huang for his comments and suggestions on research.

[i] S. N. Han and K. T. Chen, “Mortality of the 921 Earthquake in Nantou and Taichung Counties,” Epidemiology Bulletin 16, no. 1 (2000): 1–8.

[ii] Jun Rentschler et al., “Seismic Resilience in Metro Manila: Accessing Healthcare After a Catastrophic Earthquake on the West Valley Fault Line,” World Bank Blogs, March 28, 2023, https://blogs.worldbank.org/en/sustainablecities/seismic-resilience-metro-manila-accessing-healthcare-after-catastrophic.

[iii] Ting-Fang Cheng, and Lauly Li. “Taiwan Earthquake Kills at Least 9; TSMC Plants Recovering.” Nikkei Asia, April 4, 2024. https://asia.nikkei.com/Economy/Natural-disasters/Taiwan-earthquake-kills-at-least-9-TSMC-plants-recovering.

[iv] “Earthquake Continuity Plans Surpassing Legal Requirements,” TSMC ESG, accessed April 22, 2024, https://esg.tsmc.com/en/update/governance/caseStudy/1/index.html.

[v] “No Severe Impact From the Earthquake in Taiwan,” WaferWorks, accessed April 22, 2024, https://www.waferworks.com/en/news/no-severe-impact-from-the-earthquake-in-taiwan.

[vi] United Microelectronics Corporation. (n.d.). Enterprise Risk Management. UMC. https://www.umc.com/en/Html/business_continuity_management.

[vii] United Microelectronics Corporation. (2024, April 3). Response to Recent Taiwan Earthquake. UMC. https://www.umc.com/en/News/press_release/Content/corporate/20240403.

[viii] Matthew Strong. “New Taipei MRT Circular Line Quake Recovery Period Estimated to Be 1 Year.” Taiwan News, April 24, 2024. https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/news/5672744.

[ix] Michael Nakhiengchanh, “Over 100 Telecom Base Stations in Taiwan Disrupted by Quake,” 台灣英文新聞, April 3, 2024, https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/news/5135822.

[x] Jovic Yee. “‘Thank You Spare Parts,’ MRT Management Tells of Worry-Free Week.” INQUIRER.net, March 2, 2018. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/972322/thank-you-spare-parts-mrt-management-tells-of-worry-free-week-mrt-3-trains-commuters-transportation; Aerol John Pateña, “DOTr Eyes More MRT Trains with Arrival of New Spare Parts,” Philippine News Agency, January 25, 2018, https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1022954.

[xi] “0403花蓮地震災後復原重建工作 – 建築物損毀情形及家園重建” [April 3 Hualien earthquake recovery and reconstruction: Building damage and reconstruction plan], National Land Management Agency, Ministry of the Interior, R.O.C., April 11, 2024, https://www.ey.gov.tw/File/CF3DE0EFAE85153C?A=C

[xii] Maria-Cristina Florian. “Earthquake Hits Taiwan: How Strict Building Codes Averted a Larger Disaster.” ArchDaily, April 4, 2024. https://www.archdaily.com/1015294/earthquake-hits-taiwan-how-strict-building-codes-averted-a-larger-disaster; “Updated Seismic Safety Regulations for Buildings Go into Effect.” National Applied Research Laboratories, November 15, 2022, https://www.narlabs.org.tw/en/xmdoc/cont?xsmsid=0I160457997407279810&sid=0M336426037165353286&sq=ROV; “Taiwan’s Building Code Credited with Earthquake Resilience.” TaiwanPlus, April 5, 2024, https://www.taiwanplus.com/news/taiwan-news/public-policy/240405003/taiwans-building-code-credited-with-earthquake-resilience.

[xiii] Taiwan: Earthquake: 1999/09/21. Asian Disaster Reduction Center(ADRC). (n.d.). https://www.adrc.asia/view_disaster_en.php?lang=&KEY=69

[xiv] “House Approves New National Building Code to Protect the Public from Climate Change Hazards,” House of Representatives Press releases, August 9, 2023, https://www.congress.gov.ph/press/details.php?pressid=12621

[xv] Jiselle Anne Casucian, “PHIVOLCS, Japan Study: Some PH High-Rises Fail Building Code Shake Test,” GMA News Online, April 19, 2024, https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/scitech/science/904099/phivolcs-japan-study-some-ph-high-rises-fail-building-code-shake-test/story/.

[xvi] Karen Therese F. Lopez and Ronald S. Balane, “Developing an Automated Philippine National Building Code Compliance Check for R-1 Projects in BIM Using Visual Programming,” MUHON: A Journal of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and the Designed Environment, no. 8 (January 18, 2022).

[xvii] Xave Gregorio, “Update Building Code to Prevent Bigtime Damage From Big One Quake,” Philstar Global, February 16, 2023, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2023/02/16/2245408/update-building-code-prevent-bigtime-damage-big-one-quake.

[xviii] David Arase, “The Critical Link Between Democratic and Social Resilience,” Global Asia 19, no. 1 (March 2024), https://www.globalasia.org/v19no1/cover/the-critical-link-between-democratic-and-social-resilience_david-arase.

[xix] Tzu Chi Foundation’s founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, even received a Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 1991. Ramon Magsaysay is a former president of the Philippines, known for his collaborative governance. She was also included in TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2011. Michael Siao. “Tzu Chi Disaster Relief Model, 2021,” presentation accessed May 5, 2024, https://www.office.kobe-u.ac.jp/opge-kyodo-sankaku/project/unesco/seminar_list/2021/images/speech%202.pdf.

[xx] “Disaster Preventing, Relieving and Sheltering,” Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, accessed April 30, 2024, https://www.ncdr.nat.gov.tw/Message/FileMultiDownLoad/8168.

[xxi] “Highlights of the 2023 First Semester Official Poverty Statistics,” Philippine Statistics Authority, December 22, 2023, https://psa.gov.ph/system/files/phdsd/Highlights%20of%20the%202023%201st%20sem%20Official%20Poverty%20Statistics.pdf.

[xxii] Kristoffer B. Berse, Kirsten Lianne Mae C. Dedase, and Lianne Angelico C. Depante, “Autonomous Adaptation and Governmental Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Exploring the Resilience of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in the Philippines,” in Changing Law and Contractual Relations under COVID-19 (Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore, 2023), 55–78, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-4238-9_4.

[xxiii] “Coverage of Residential Earthquake Basic Insurance,” Taiwan Residential Earthquake Insurance Fund, accessed April 26, 2024, https://www.treif.org.tw/en/xmdoc/cont?xsmsid=0L314504930412679143; As of April 26, 2024, TREIF claims amounted to only NT$647 million, within the limits of the basic pool, inferring that not all TREIF-insured properties are damaged; “0403 Hualien Shoufeng Earthquake Claim Information Update (as of April 26, 2024).” Taiwan Residential Earthquake Insurance Fund, April 26, 2024, https://www.treif.org.tw/en/xmdoc/cont?xsmsid=0L314513099842647268&sid=0O117616670056492863.

Kirsten Lianne Mae Dedase

亞太堅韌研究基金會 研究員