By Todd Blackhurst
Although some recent news articles rank Taiwan as one of the safest countries in the world, there are other reasons to think about your personal and family safety while living as an expat in this great country. In part, the answer to this question is determined by you. Where do you live, do you drive and how well do you know the culture and are you able to interact and get along with people.
In our home cultures, it is relatively easy to spot security threats. We know what is normal, so we rapidly identify and respond to whatever does not fit. Here in Taiwan, however, you may not always be aware of what is going on around you, what is being said (or not said), or what the crowd might be doing. In a disaster here, you could very quickly find yourself caught in situation that you cannot easily understand, let alone survive while helping those around.
The sheer population density of Taiwanese cities can amplify the impacts of disaster. This makes disaster survival plans doubly important in this context. What would you do in a terrorist or military attack? An earthquake? What if your personal safety was threatened?
Be prepared BEFORE such a situation arises. Knowing how to protect yourself without incurring legal penalties can be essential to your well-being in the short and long term. Although many news articles rank Taiwan as one of the safest countries in the world, your safety is unique to your situation and relies on your ability to understand and fully participate in what is, for many of us, an extremely different culture from those we know well.
What you may view as unsafe or dangerous behavior in your home culture may be viewed as normal or culturally acceptable here, and the reverse also holds true. So, read on for resources on culture and disaster preparedness. It could make all the difference.
Emergency Phone Numbers – Check out this page for the emergency phone numbers you should know while living in Taiwan. CLICK HERE
Earthquake Preparedness & Survival Information – The Best Information on Earthquake Preparedness & Survival comes from Japan, Click here for the full website or download the links below.
Japan’s Earthquake Survival Guide – Japan_Earthquake_Guide
Japan’s Disaster Preparation Guide – Japan_DisasterPrepare
Japan’s Survival Guide (good for all situations) – Japan_SurvivalGuide
In addition, you may find these resources helpful:
RedCross_Earthquake – Earthquake Preparedness Guide
Canada_Earthquake_Preparedness – Canadian Guide to Earthquake Preparedness
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center – You can subscribe to updates at this website
RedCross_Tsunami – Hurricane Preparedness Guide
Tsunami Readiness Guide – NOAA
Just an additional note or two. If the earthquake is severe and you live in an apartment complex, fill your bathtub and other buckets up with water. The initial flow will come from your buildings storage tank and will be relatively clean. Make sure you have an exit, prop a door open in case there is settling. Sometimes doors will become jammed as the building continues to move. Don’t underestimate the value of keeping water and supplies for when it’s needed.
Another outcome of earthquakes we don’t often think about – falling tiles. Read More
Taiwan Personal Safety Guide – Below
This has been adapted from a US State Department Document. If you have ideas or thoughts you would like to add, please feel free to do so by commenting below.
For most expats living overseas, the greatest obstacle to their personal safety is an attitude of complacency or fatalism. Both the “It can’t happen to me” and “if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen” are dangerous ways to think.
Nowhere in the world can be considered absolutely safe. While Taiwan has been relatively free from many of the threats other countries have faced, it does not mean it will remain that way in the future. In addition, Taiwan has it’s own set of particular threats that all residents should be prepared for. The most common crime in Taiwan is theft.
In almost any situation you can influence what happens to you by assuming more responsibility for your own security. By preparing beforehand and thinking about how you will act and respond rather than reacting you will give yourself and your family a greater chance of survival and security.
A Family & Personal Plan for Survival
Preparing Your Children
- Start by discussing what could happen and what you should do depending on where you are located. If an earthquake or other event happens while at home, at school or at work. There will be plenty of common things that everyone should do in multiple events. Planning ahead will help everyone think more clearly when the unexpected happens.
- Make a list of what needs to be done ahead of time. Store important family documents, such as identity documents, birth certificates, passports, wills, financial documents, insurance policies, etc. in waterproof container(s). Identify an appropriate out-of-town contact that can act as a central point of contact
in an emergency. Make sure your children know where these documents are located along with an emergency supply of cash and credit cards.
- Write down and exercise your plan with the entire family at least once a year. Make sure everybody has a copy and keeps it close at hand.
- Print out this FEMA_plan_child_508_071513 from FEMA (USA) and get a plan in place for your family to stay in touch in case of an emergency or unexpected event.
- You can check out the US Government website for whole family resources to prepare your family. Multiple languages available. CLICK HERE
- Make sure someone has an appropriate authorization letter in case your children should need to leave the country without you. Minors are not allowed to travel internationally without their parents without a letter of permission from the parents.
A Checklist for Families – Things No One Wants to Think About, but Should
- Pick the same people for each family member to call or email. (Grandma & Grandpa – An Aunt or Uncle) It might be easier to reach someone who’s out of town.
- Text, don’t talk, unless it’s an emergency. It may be easier to send a text, if you have a phone, and you don’t want to tie up phone lines for emergency workers. (Many parents don’t want to give their younger kids cell phones, but living in a foreign country puts us in unique positions as expats. A cell phone with a GPS tracker gives you help in an emergency that might be difficult to find with the language barrier.)
- If your children don’t speak Chinese, put some cards with your home address, contact information, who to contact, etc. in both Chinese & English in their phone’s picture files and also their backpack.
- Select a place to meet near your home, then have everyone practice getting there.
- In addition choose a spot outside of your neighborhood in case you can’t get home. Practice getting there from school, your friends’ houses, and after school activities. Make sure your children know how to navigate using landmarks and major roads. Teach them what to look for in case they have to travel alone.
- Keep your family’s contact info and meeting spot location in your child’s backpack, wallet, or taped inside their school notebook. Put it in their cell phone if they have one. Make sure they know how to find it and how to use it.
- Check the stairwells in your building to make sure they are clear of debris and stuff. If the elevators are not working or the electricity is out, you need an exit. Work with your building management to make sure you have a way out of the building.
- Choose a close friend(s) to check on your children in case of an emergency and make a plan to take care of them if you are incapacitated or worse. Make sure your extended family and this person knows your wishes in advance so they can help coordinate and care for your children in a worst case scenario.
Other Considerations for Expatriates – Personal Preparations for the Unexpected
If you are killed or disabled, you should have someone designated to take care of your affairs and if you have children, care for them and make decisions on their behalf. For US Citizens, the police will contact AIT and also work with their school to care for the children until family can arrive from the United States to take care of them. For those from other countries, similar contacts would be made to your countries representative office in Taiwan.
If you or someone you love dies in Taiwan, the cost of burying or repatriating the body will be extraordinary. You may consider cremation as an alternative. The cost of burial in Taiwan can run as high as US$20,000 and the cost of repatriation to the USA might be from US$8,000 – $15,000. In addition, Taiwan handles the death of an individual differently from most western countries. You may be presented with paperwork and decisions immediately that you are not prepared to handle. You should designate a friend or co-worker to help you at this difficult time until you are able to process what is happening. If you die in a hospital you will be expected to immediately pay for the body to be stored in refrigeration while you make plans.
– Information from AIT regarding the death of a US Citizen – CLICK HERE
Home & Apartment Security
The following guidelines can be used to review the security of your home or apartment.
- All entrances, including service doors and gates, should have quality locks–preferably deadbolt. Check your:
- Front Door
- Rear Door
- Garage Door(s)
- Service Door(s)
- Patio Door
- Sliding Glass Door
- Swimming Pool Gate
- Don’t leave keys “hidden” outside your home. Leave an extra key with a trusted neighbor or friend.
- Taiwan has a special type of “climbing thief.” They will go to adjacent buildings and try to gain access to your home from roof top doors or open balconies. Depending upon the layout of one’s neighborhood this kind of threat will be more or less likely. But if a home balcony or rooftop in your home could be accessed by someone with basic climbing skills, then it is worth investing in locks or latches for rooftop doors and balcony windows. Be sure to keep fire safety in mind.
- Keep doors locked even when you or family members are at home.
- Have window locks installed on all windows. Use them.
- Lock louvered windows–especially on the ground floor.
- Have locks installed on your fuse boxes and external power sources.
- If you have window grilles and bars, review fire safety. Don’t block bedroom windows with permanent grilles if the windows may be used for emergency egress.
- If you have burglar or intrusion alarms, check and use them.
- Keep at least one fire extinguisher on each floor, and be sure to keep one in the kitchen. Show family members and household help how to use them.
- Periodically check smoke detectors and replace batteries when necessary.
- Keep flashlights in several areas in the house. Check the batteries often, especially if you have children in your home. (They love to play with flashlights!)
- A family dog can be a deterrent to criminals. But remember, even the best watch-dog can be controlled by food or poison. Do not install separate “doggy doors” or entrances. They can admit small intruders.
- Choose a location that offers the most security. The less remote, the safer your home will be, particularly in a neighborhood close to police and fire protection.
- Know your neighbors. Develop a rapport with them and offer to keep an eye on each other’s homes, especially during trips.
- If you observe any unusual activity, report it immediately to your guard desk or ask your neighbors about it. Call the police and ask them to investigate.
- Establish safe family living patterns. If you understand the importance of your contribution to the family’s overall security, the entire household will be safer.
- While at home, you and your family should rehearse safety drills and be aware of procedures to escape danger and get help.
- Educate family members in the proper way to answer the telephone at home.
- Know where all family members are at all times.
Home Security While You Are Away
- Notify your trusted neighbor, friend and/or front desk of your departure and return dates but don’t otherwise publicize your travel or vacation plans. Leave contact numbers with appropriate personnel. Do not publicize your travel on social media until after the trip is over.
- Arrange to have a friend or colleague pick up your newspapers, mail, or other deliveries daily.
- Secure your home. Close and lock all windows and doors. Don’t forget to lock garage or gate doors.
- Consider purchasing timers to turn on outside and inside lights automatically at various times throughout the night.
- Check outside lighting and replace older light bulbs. You don’t want a light burning out while you are away.
- Ask a friend or colleague to check your residence periodically, ensuring your furnace or air conditioning is functioning and that timers and lights are working. This is especially helpful in Taiwan to protect against leaks which could result in great damage and mold and fungus growth.
- The decision to set the automated alarm system may vary from region to region. Power outages and brownouts may trip alarm systems. Check with your security company or guard desk for advice on setting alarm systems when you are away for long periods of time.
- Unplug all unnecessary appliances such as televisions, stereos, and personal computers.
- If you use a telephone answering machine, turn off the ringer on the telephone. If you don’t have an answering machine, unplug or turn off ringers on all telephones.
- Lock all jewelry, important papers, currency, and other valuables in a safe place such as a safe deposit box or home safe.
- Ensure all personal and home insurance policies are up-to-date and that your coverage is adequate.
Personal Security While Traveling
- Notify any appropriate co-workers or trusted friends of your departure and return dates, but don’t otherwise publicize your travel or vacation plans.
- Leave contact numbers with appropriate personnel.
- Check plane, train, and bus times before you travel.
- Sit near other people or near aisles or doors. Learn the location of emergency alarms and exits.
- Stay awake and alert when using public transportation.
- Consider purchasing special clothing or accessories to hide your passport, money, or credit cards. Keep the majority of your funds hidden; carry some in your wallet or handbag. Use a money clip. If you are robbed, you may lose the money in the clip but will retain important credit cards and documents.
- Keep valuables out of sight and luggage close at hand. If carrying a handbag, keep it in front of you, closed, with the fastening toward your body. Keep a wallet in your front pants pocket.
- Let go if your bag is snatched.
- Do some research on the area you are visiting. Talk to a security officer and check your countries consular website regarding travel advisories or warnings.
- When traveling, dress casually; dress down where appropriate. Be aware of local customs.
- Don’t wear excess jewelry. Reduce wallet and purse contents, particularly cards denoting affiliations, memberships, accounts, etc.
- At airports, proceed through security checks and go to the boarding area as quickly as possible. These areas are usually the most secure in the airport.
- In any crowded situation, be aware of any crowding or jostling, even if it appears innocent. This is often a ploy by pickpockets to distract you.
- Be very careful any time you give out numbers over the phone (credit card, id, etc.). Look for people observing your card or your fingers as you dial any codes. Avoid being heard giving the numbers over the phone.
Personal Security in Hotels
- Do not discuss your business or travel plans in public areas where they may be overheard. Discuss your travel plans and movements during your stay with as few people as possible.
- Selecting a hotel room on the third to fifth floor generally will keep you out of reach of criminal activity from the street but still within reach of most fire truck ladders.
- Do not entertain strangers in your hotel room.
- Be alert to overly friendly locals who may have criminal intentions. They may offer to take you to a “special” restaurant. Their ruse may be to offer drugged refreshments.
- Never leave valuables in your hotel room exposed or unattended, even in a locked suitcase.
- Place valuables–money, jewelry, airplane tickets, credit cards, passport–in a hotel safe deposit box or room safe.
- Familiarize yourself with escape routes in case of fire or other catastrophe.
- Use the door chain or bolt lock whenever you are in your room.
- Use the door viewer (peephole) before opening the door to visitors.
- Do not discuss your room number while standing in the lobby or leave your room key on restaurant or bar tables.
- Keep your room neat so you will notice disturbed or missing items quickly.
Fire Safety at Home
Statistics about fire are frightening. In America, about 30,000 people are injured and nearly 4,800 die from fire each year. This rate is lower than in most other countries. Differences in fire codes, building and electrical standards, and even firefighting capabilities can increase your threat from fire if you live overseas.
Three vital facts you should know about fire:
– It isn’t usually fire that kills; it is the products of combustion–smoke, toxic gases, or superheated air.
– Fire travels at lightning speed–up to 19 feet per second.
– The critical hours for a house fire are 11 PM to 6 AM when most people are asleep.
This means you need to detect fire early, and you must move quickly when you do. You and your family can avoid becoming a statistic if you:
– Install smoke detectors in your home.
– Create and practice a fire escape plan.
– Take preventive measures such as those listed below.
Smoke Detectors – A smoke detector can mean the difference between life and death. They are inexpensive and are battery operated; they are not at the mercy of sporadic electrical service. You should have one on every level of your home, particularly in the hallway outside bedrooms. Test your detectors regularly, and replace the batteries as needed–usually twice a year.
Exit Drills – You and your family should create a fire exit plan together. Learn how to escape the house from every room. Locate two exits from each bedroom. Designate a meeting place outside the house. Most importantly–especially if you have children–PRACTICE YOUR PLAN! If you live in a high rise, check your stair wells regularly to make sure they are not blocked and people are not storing items that could block your exit.
Preventive Measures – Carelessness with cigarettes is the most frequent cause of house fires. Never smoke in bed! Open flames and the resulting sparks are dangerous. Don’t place barbecue grills or other open flames on the balcony or near the house.
Check for: faulty electrical wiring; overloaded circuits; faulty equipment, including cooking and heating appliances; leaking propane tanks; overloaded or frayed extension cords; dirty chimneys and vents; and flammable liquids.
Keep a fire extinguisher in the house, preferably one on every level but particularly in the kitchen. Teach older children and household help how to use the extinguisher.
Security Do’s for Children
– Teach children never to admit strangers into the home.
– Teach children local emergency phone numbers, important phone numbers for trusted friends, and how to use any communication devices. Make sure younger children know their name, address, and phone number.
– Caution teenagers about “blind dates” or meeting anyone they do not know.
– Teach younger members of your family not to open mail or packages.
– Teach young children how to answer the telephone so that they do not give out personal information, such as home address, absence of adults, etc.
– Teach children how to say no to strangers.
– Teach children how to exit the house in case of emergency.
Carjacking or Car Crime
Check out my companion article on What to do in a Traffic Accident.
– When in your car, always keep the doors locked. Any time you drive through areas containing stoplights, stop signs, or anything that significantly reduces vehicular speed, keep your windows up.
– Leave ample maneuvering space between your vehicle and the one in front of you. If you are approached by suspicious persons while you are stopped, do not roll down windows; drive away quickly.
– If you are being followed or harassed by another driver, try to find the nearest police station, hotel, or other public facility. Once you find a place of safety, don’t worry about using a legal parking space. Park as close as you can, and get inside fast.
– If another driver tries to force you to pull over or to cut you off, keep driving and try to get away. Try to note the license plate number of the car and a description of the car and driver. If this effort places you in danger, don’t do it. The information is not as important as your safety.
– If you are being followed, never lead the person back to your home or stop and get out. Drive to the nearest police station or public facility. (You could verify you are being followed by going completely around an arbitrarily chosen block.)
– If you are traveling alone and a car “bumps” into you, don’t stop to exchange accident information. Go to the nearest service station or other public place to call the police.
– Never, ever pick up hitchhikers!
– When you park, look for a spot that offers good lighting and is close to a location where there are a lot of people. Lock valuables in the trunk, and lock all doors.
– Extra precautions are necessary when shopping. If you take packages out to lock them in your trunk, then plan to return to the stores to do more shopping, it may be a good idea to move your car to another section of the parking lot or street. A criminal knows that you will be coming back and can wait to ambush you. By moving your car, you give the impression you’re leaving. If you think you are being followed, do not go back to your car. Return to the safety of the occupied shopping area or office building and contact the authorities.
– If you have car trouble on the road, raise your hood. If you have a radio antenna, place a handkerchief or other flag there. When people stop to help, don’t get out of the car unless you know them or it’s the police. Ask the “good samaritan” to stop at the nearest service station and report your problem.
– If you are in a parking lot or parked on the street and have trouble, be wary of personal assistance from strangers. Go to the nearest telephone and call a repair service or friend for assistance. If you feel threatened by the presence of nearby strangers, lock yourself in your car and blow the horn to attract attention of others.
- Do lock your scooter. Scooter theft is more common than you think. Helmets should be secured, it is common for vagrants to casually stroll along and look for loose items left on rows of scooters to take and walk away with.
- Use a wheel lock. They are cheap and easy. Make it as difficult as possible to take your scooter.
- Don’t race.
- Don’t honk or become aggressive – especially with cars.
- Use the scooter lane, but be careful. Car drivers park in this lane indiscriminately and often don’t pay attention when opening their doors.
- Don’t wear headphones while driving – you need all your senses aware and tuned in to what is happening while you are driving.
- Do use your turn signals.
- Wear a helmet – a good one. Look for the DOT sticker and pay the price! If the price is cheap, so is the protection.
Sexual Assault Prevention
I suggest you pay special attention to teaching your children to be wise in this area. There are plenty of resources on the internet, but you should think carefully about this culturally. According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, a total of 11,086 persons were sexually abused in Taiwan in 2014, some 7,044 (63.54%) of whom were minors under the age of 18. Among these minors, 844 persons were abused by family members (either direct relatives or collateral relatives).
Dial 113 to report sexual abuse or harassment immediately and then proceed to your nearest police station to file a report.
For Children, know who is in your child’s life. Don’t assume because everyone is friendly that everyone is safe.
- Be alert. Don’t assume that you are always safe. Think about your safety everywhere. Your best protection is avoiding dangerous situations.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable in any situation, leave.
- Always walk, drive, and park your car in well-lit areas.
- Walk confidently at a steady pace on the side of the street facing traffic.
- Walk close to the curb. Avoid doorways, bushes, and alleys.
- Wear clothes and shoes that allow freedom of movement.
- Walk to your car with keys in your hand.
- If you have car trouble, raise the hood and stay inside your car. If a stranger wants to help, have him or her call for help. Don’t leave your car.
- Keep your car doors locked and never pick up hitchhikers.
- Make sure all windows and doors in your home are locked, especially if you are home alone.
- Never give the impression that you are home alone if strangers telephone or come to the door.
- If a stranger asks to use your phone, have him wait outside while you make the call.
- If you come home and find a door or window open or signs of forced entry, don’t go in. Go to the nearest phone and call 119 or the local law enforcement authorities.
This is where things get a little tricky. I have included the English translation of the civil code. In addition, I have asked both the police and some of my Taiwanese friends about the actual implementation of this law. You must be careful here. If someone attacks or threatens you, you can only protect yourself to the extent that it matches what would or is being done to you. Anything over and above will be held against you and you will be prosecuted and have to pay damages for. Here is the civil code so you can read it for yourself.
Chapter VII Exercise of Rights – from the Taiwan Civil Code
Article 148 – A right can not be exercised for the main purpose of violating public interests or damaging the others. A right shall be exercised and a duty shall be performed in accordance with the means of good faith.
Article 149 – A person acting in defense of his own rights or the rights of another against immediate unlawful infringement thereof is not liable to compensate for any injury arising from his action. But if anything is done in excess of what is required for necessary defense, he is still liable to make a reasonable compensation.
Article 150 – A person acting to avoid an imminent danger menacing the life, body, liberty or property of himself or of another is not liable to compensate for any injury arising from his action, provided the action is necessary for avoiding the danger and does not exceed the limit of the injury which would have been caused by the said danger.
Under the circumstances specified in the preceding paragraph, if the person so acting is responsible for the occurrence of the danger, he is liable to compensate for any injury arising from his act.
Article 151 – In order to protect his rights, a person who restrains, seizes, or destroys the liberty or the property of another is not liable to compensate for any injury arising therefrom, provided the assistance of the court or other relevant authorities could not be obtained in due time and there was a fact that if the person did not act immediately, the exercise of his rights would be rendered impossible or manifestly arduous.
Article 152 – According to the provision of the preceding article, a person who restrains the liberty or seizes the property of another shall apply immediately to the court for assistance. If the application mentioned in the preceding paragraph is dismissed or is not made in time, this person is liable to compensate for any injury arising from his action.