Washington doesn’t have statewide data on the seismic safety of schools. Here are a few tips to find the available information.

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Getting started:

• Check the database of Washington schools to find out when the building was constructed, soil type and expected ground-shaking.

Schools built before 1975 tend to be the most vulnerable. Schools built since the mid-1990s are generally safer because of improved building codes.

Soft soils amplify shaking and can increase the potential for damage. Earthquake shaking intensity is expressed as “peak ground acceleration.” PGAs of 30 percent or higher can damage well-constructed buildings. (For a fuller explanation, see pages 75-76 of this OSPI report).


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• Ask school officials about construction type and whether the building has been seismically retrofitted. If local school staffers don’t know, the district facilities manager should. If you know the building type, this FEMA guide will tell you when the benchmark building codes considered safe were enacted.

For older schools:

• Check with your school district. Some, such as Everett, have pre-disaster mitigation plans, which include information on building condition.

• Check with your county. Building departments usually keep records of school upgrades, sometimes available online.

The most vulnerable types of older schools:

• Unreinforced and reinforced masonry (brick, stone)

• Concrete-frame buildings

• Precast concrete buildings

• Tilt-up concrete, common in gyms and auditoriums

Wood- and steel-frame buildings are generally safer.


For coastal schools:

• Check state and local tsunami inundation and evacuation maps to determine whether the building is in or near the danger zone.

• If tsunami-evacuation plans call for students to shelter in place, ask about school construction and the building’s ability to survive a tsunami. (Only one school building in Washington, the Ocosta Elementary gym, was designed to be tsunami-resistant.)

• Ask what the school has done to reduce the danger from nonstructural hazards, such as light fixtures and bookcases.


General preparedness tips:

• Ask to see the school’s emergency plan and how often drills are conducted.

• Ask about plans for reuniting parents and kids after a disaster, whether the school is prepared to shelter children if roads and bridges are out, and what supplies are on hand.

• Make sure the school has your child’s emergency contact information, and that your child has an emergency contact sheet.

• If you’re concerned about earthquake safety, consider working with your local PTA or other parents to help schools better prepare.


More resources:

Structural Engineers Association of Washington

• The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute’s School Earthquake Safety Initiative.

• FEMA family and school preparedness.

• History of British Columbia’s school seismic-safety program.