Earthquake News

Washington state is slowly but surely inspecting the schools that are most susceptible to earthquakes.

SEATTLE — If there is an earthquake in Washington state, will your children be safe at school?
Since more reports are coming in, the state has been debating how effectively our schools could withstand not only shaking but also poor soils that could liquefy underneath buildings and structures that are vulnerable to tsunami waves.
According to Tyler Muench of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, "We're going after the highest risk buildings in the districts with the least ability to deal with them" (OSPI).

Focusing on some of the most seismically vulnerable places and school districts, the OSPI conducted an assessment of 561 school buildings in Washington State with the help of the Washington Geological Survey, a division of the Department of Natural Resources.


The state is working through a list of 71 schools from the Washington coast, up to Ferndale, and down to Snohomish and Pierce counties that are considered "Very High Priority School Buildings" while structural engineers and seismic experts are examining the ground beneath the schools during two phases of assessment. Muench spoke virtually to the House Capital Budget Committee, which is assessing how much more needs to be spent.

Out of the roughly 4,000 school buildings throughout the state, the School Seismic Safety Project Legislative Report for the 2019–2021 session examined 561 of the most alarming structures. Many of the educational facilities east of the Cascades are likewise seen as vulnerable.

Yet there has been improvement. The OSPI informed the committee that Edison Elementary's seismic retrofit in the Centralia School District is now entirely implemented. The provision of an additional $8.5 million is necessary to accomplish the six additional retrofits requested in the current budget.

Also included on the list are schools in Marysville and Cosmopolis.

However, the OSPI also pushes for modifications in the financing of school seismic demands. The 66-year-old Pacific Beach Elementary on the Washington coast was set to receive several million dollars in state funding to help with renovations, but the issue is much worse because of the soil the school is built on and the possibility that a tsunami caused by a magnitude 9 earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction fault could submerge it under nearly 30 feet of water. An earthquake and tsunami of this magnitude would be comparable to those that occurred in 2011 off the coast of northeastern Japan.

The North Beach School District, which includes Pacific Beach Elementary, will be asking its voters on February 8 to adopt a school levy. The funds would be used to build a new elementary school that is earthquake resistant and out of the way of tsunami waves, as well as tsunami evacuation shelters for two other schools in Ocean Shores.

The OSPI's Muench informed the committee that more rural districts frequently have lower home values and a smaller tax base, making it more difficult for them to collect money on their own to make schools safer.



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