(Bloomberg) -- The technological expertise that turned Taiwan into a semiconductor powerhouse appears to have kept damage and casualties relatively low from its worst quake in a quarter of a century, according to an academic who worked on the island’s disaster response.

The quake measured 7.4 in magnitude and struck the east coast of Taiwan early Wednesday, killing at least seven people and injuring more than 800. The temblor leveled dozens of buildings in Hualien County and shook buildings in Taipei. While the toll may rise — several were reported killed as of Wednesday afternoon — a milder quake that hit in 2016 killed over 100 people, while more than 2,400 people died in a major quake in 1999.

Revised building codes after 1999’s disaster and better technology helped mitigate casualties during Wednesday’s quake, which could still have major implications for the global tech supply chain. 

Wu Yih-min, a professor of geosciences at National Taiwan University and a team head at the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction, said that in the last three-to-five years a disaster response system developed by the agency became more sophisticated, meeting a crucial need in one of the most seismically active parts of the world.

“Taiwan continues to develop these technologies, and we have advantages,” Wu said, adding that it would be harder for regions without a strong tech industry.

Wu said the island’s disaster response system scans key words and photos posted online, allowing the government to deploy resources quickly. 

It can also detect mobile signals in affected areas to track the flow of people, while also collecting screenshots from surveillance cameras across Taiwan to assess damage.

That tech savvy has seen the island become a key player in the global market for laptops, motherboards and network devices. Crucial chipmakers like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and United Microelectronics Corp. halted operations at some plants and evacuated some staff.

Those chipmakers often have to deal with seismic activity or typhoons, and TSMC said the evacuations were procedural. 

When factories in Taiwan’s science parks were being built, companies factored in seismic activity in their plans and had standard procedures for emergency responses, Deputy Minister Lin Minn-tsong of Taiwan’s National Science and Technology Council said in a statement.

Similarly, while more than 300,000 households lost power after the quake, the island’s power company said it had restored electricity to more than two thirds in less than two hours. Only 3,478 were still dealing with outages as of mid-afternoon Wednesday.

After the earthquake hit at 7:58 a.m. Taipei time, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen announced an emergency response office and said the military will provide support to stricken areas. 

Road and rail links to and around Hualien have been severely damaged, with workers continuing to try and rescue trapped residents. The quake hit just ahead of the start of a four-day holiday in Taiwan observing Qingming. Tens of thousands of people normally travel to their hometowns over the period. 

--With assistance from Debby Wu, Chien-Hua Wan and Adrian Kennedy.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.