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Study: Many WA Schools Face Big Risks from Earthquakes

The darker shades on the map represent the highest shaking hazard and the black lines represent potentially active faults in Washington. (Washington state Department of Natural Resources)
The darker shades on the map represent the highest shaking hazard and the black lines represent potentially active faults in Washington. (Washington state Department of Natural Resources)
July 8, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Ground-shaking new research finds many Washington state public schools are at high risk of serious damage in an earthquake.

The Washington Geologic Survey's School Seismic Safety Project looked at 222 schools across the state, or about 5% of the total.

It found that in a major earthquake, a majority of the buildings would receive a red tag, or be unsafe to occupy, and a quarter wouldn't be repairable at all.

Corina Forson, chief hazards geologist for the Washington Geologic Survey, says her team did in-depth analysis of 15 schools and found the upgrade costs ranged from $62,000 to $5 million.

"Even though the price tag seems remarkable and very high, the estimated cost to replace these buildings is much, much higher, and so investing now will help save lives and a lot of money in the long run," she states.

Forson notes the wide range in costs illustrates the need for specific site assessments.

Most of the school buildings were constructed before 1975, the year Washington adopted a statewide building code.

According to the study, Washington ranks second in the nation for earthquake risk, with the highest risk in the western part of the state.

Forson notes that tragedy could be two-fold if school buildings aren’t able to survive an earthquake because they also are community gathering spaces.

"They're the place that people go to gather with their loved ones and to seek shelter and be able to provide housing and food following a major disaster,” she points out. “
And so it's very important that these buildings can withstand an earthquake and that they can be usable following an earthquake."

The Washington State Legislature set aside $2.2 million in the current biennium to continue the School Seismic Safety Project, which will survey another 350 buildings and focus on schools threatened by an earthquake-triggered tsunami.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA