When a 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit Taiwan's scenic and largely rural east coast county of Hualien on Wednesday, local official Chang Tung-yao knew exactly what to do, having experienced a similar temblor six years before.

Within two hours of the quake, which struck just before 8 a.m. as people were getting ready for work, Chang said an emergency shelter was arranged at a nearby school where more than 130 residents ended up spending the night.

"Joined-up contact with government departments was key," said Chang, a neighborhood chief, the lowest level of elected official in Taiwan.