An estimated 72 percent of schools are rated at 'high' or 'very high' risk from earthquakes. Governor Jay Inslee sat down with his Resilience Cabinet on Wednesday to address the issue.
Geologists say schools are vulnerable because of their proximity to the state's network of earthquake faults. There's the massive Cascadia Subduction Zone, which runs for hundreds of miles off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, Northern California and British Columbia. That zone could unleash a tsunami on the scale of the one that hit northeastern Japan in 2011. Then there is the Seattle Fault, which runs across Bainbridge island, past the southern edge of downtown Seattle to the Cascades. And other schools are near the South Whidbey Island Fault, along with newer fault discoveries in the eastern half of the state.
This past legislative session saw $1.2 million passed to begin assessing the ability of school buildings to stand up to earthquakes. Authors of the study on Washington State School Seismic Safety Awareness say the state's 1.1 million students occupy some 9,000 permanent and portable school buildings. Of those schools, only 232 have been built since 2004, when building codes for quakes were upgraded. Some 37 school campuses housing some 9,000 students are located in tsunami inundation zones.
That initial $1.2 million is designed to assess about 220 of the most vulnerable buildings. But at that funding level, it could take a century or more to do a full assessment for all school buildings in the state.
While control of schools is primarily at the local level, the state's Office of the Superintend of Public Instruction says it has obtained $748,419 in FEMA grant money, along with another $300,000 state match, to create an earthquake mitigation program for schools that face natural hazards.
Earthquake Prone Buildings in Seattle