Israeli tech relief group SmartAid heading to Taiwan after major quake shakes the island

Founder says the group is looking to bring solar power arrays and emergency telecom systems after magnitude 7.4 earthquake hits city of Hualien, killing at least 9 and injuring hundreds more

Following the devastating magnitude 7.4 earthquake near the city of Hualien on Taiwan’s eastern coast, SmartAid, the Israeli tech aid charity, is dispatching a relief team for immediate assistance to help in the recovery.

At least nine people have been killed and hundreds more injured after the country’s largest earthquake in 25 years. Fifty workers traveling in minibuses to a hotel in a national park were also missing. The earthquake struck just offshore at about 8 a.m., triggering massive landslides.

Shachar Zahavi, founding director of SmartAid, said the nonprofit was working closely with local partners, evaluating the integration of solar power units and telecommunications systems to address the widespread power outages affecting over 91,000 households. Additionally, a major highway closure due to landslides and rockfalls has exacerbated the situation.

“We specialize in integrating tech and humanitarian disasters,” he said. “The whole idea behind SmartAid is we take the ‘startup nation’ into the humanitarian sphere. Now in Taiwan we have tens of thousands of people without electricity. We know the process and as we have done in other countries we will install solar microgrids so that these people will at least have access to electricity and communication, and medical care can continue.” 

Zahavi said SmartAid normally partners with international aid groups, governments and multinational corporations, where most of their funding comes from. The group is also currently active in Southern Sudan, where violence has been ongoing since last year, as well as in Ukraine, he said. 

SmartAid also usually sends in search-and-rescue teams that coordinate efforts with parallel international teams using big data and mapping technologies to try to improve the success of tracking survivors.

At the moment the full extent of injuries is still being determined, Zahavi said, though significant structural damage has been reported in Hualien County, particularly in its mountainous and remote areas. Taiwan’s National Fire Agency has reported over 100 buildings damaged island-wide, he said.

“We are in the very early hours of trying to determine what is needed. It usually takes 24 to 48 hours until we can know what is happening. In 48 hours things will be clearer. Everything is fresh now so everyone is trying to understand what is going on and how they can help,” said Zahavi, who was the founder of IsraAid, an international humanitarian aid NGO based in Israel and led the organization for 18 years.

SmartAid also works with local governments and local charities to coordinate its actions, he said, as well as with any local Jewish communities that might be affected by disasters.

“With all that is intertwined together we believe things will eventually benefit the community that is affected,” he said.