Priceless artifacts vulnerable to earthquakes

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Apollo Chen, second left, reaches to catch a falling vase during a press conference in Taipei yesterday highlighting the importance of having adequate measures in place to protect collections of rare and valuable objects in the nation’s museums against earthquakes.

Priceless artifacts and works of art at museums such as the National Palace Museum are at high risk of being damaged when earthquakes strike, lawmakers and researchers warned yesterday, urging the authorities and organizations to allocate budgets for earthquake-resistant equipment designed to protect museum exhibits.

“Thirteen years after the Sept. 21 earthquake hit [Taiwan], we have invested plenty of resources in the development of earthquake-resistant buildings and infrastructures, but very little has been done to protect invaluable relics and objects on display. Many museums have no budget for protecting their collections from earthquakes,” Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Apollo Chen (陳學聖) said at a press conference jointly organized with KMT Legislator Lu Yu-ling (呂玉玲).

Chen was referring to the magnitude-7.3 quake that hit the nation on Sept. 21, 1999, which left 2,415 dead, 11,305 injured and 400,000 homeless.

According to information compiled by Chen’s team, among the nine national museums surveyed, only the Museum of the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts have installed systems used to safeguard exhibits against seismic impacts. The National Palace Museum and the National Museum of History use materials such as nylon strings to keep artifacts in fixed positions, while others, such as the National Taiwan Museum and the National Museum of Prehistory, have no protective measures in place.

Researchers from the National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering showed a video that demonstrated the efficiency of earthquake-resistant designs. In the video, articles of furniture at a sample living room without earthquake protectors fall on the floor within minutes in a simulated earthquake measuring 7 on the Richter scale, whereas in a room equipped with protection facilities, a vase and water bottle are seen remaining in the same position.

“The earthquake-resistant system is made up of isolation units that are soft and enable objects to withstand the force of an earthquake,” researcher Chien Wen-yu (簡文郁) said. “These techniques have been used to protect buildings such as hospitals.”

Chien added that in private homes, large pieces of furniture like bookshelves and large-screen televisions should be anchored to walls to provide protection against seismic impacts.

Chen Tung-he (陳東和), an assistant researcher at the National Palace Museum, said the museum uses multiple measures to protect artifacts on display.

“We use strings, nails or wires to prevent artifacts from sliding. Weights are placed inside taller objects to make them more balanced,” Chen said. “But it is definitely worth the effort to develop new methods to protect artifacts from being destroyed in case of an earthquake.”

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