Damaged school buildings were the impetus for the first California law upgrading building standards—the Field Act of 1933. Oregon and Washington waited until after the general building code upgrade of the mid-1970s. Since then, major school retrofit programs have begun in Seattle, Portland, Eugene, and Corvallis, generally funded by bond issues and addressing other needs besides earthquakes, such as antiquated furnace systems. There are still many communities where these measures have not been started; bond issues to upgrade schools continue to fail.
Your school can take steps that cost little or no money, only time. Work through the PTA to ensure that the school has its own earthquake-preparedness supplies, an evacuation plan, and earthquake drills. School officials may not take earthquake drills seriously. Ask questions about the specifics of staff training and responsibilities. What is the school’s plan to release children (or to house them in the school building) after an earthquake? Are hazardous materials stored properly? Are there heavy bookcases that might topple on children at their desks (Figure 11-10) or light fixtures that might come down on top of them (Figure 12-7)? The Seattle Public Schools, through Project Impact, implemented a program to remove overhead hazards, install automatic gas shutoff valves, and organize site teams to improve classroom safety, including teachers, support staff, parents, and volunteers. These improvements greatly limited property damage in the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake.
Earthquakes seem to pick on universities. The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake caused more than $160 million in damage to Stanford University, including the building housing the Department of Geology. The university had previously been damaged severely by the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake; at that time it was a relatively new campus. The 1994 Northridge Earthquake trashed California State University at Northridge—again including the Department of Geology, which was still in temporary quarters two years later. The University of California at Berkeley is crossed by the Hayward Fault and is at risk from an M 7 earthquake in the near future. Seismic retrofit programs have been underway since 1978, with the expenditure of $250 million, but more than one-fourth of usable campus space is labeled “poor” or “very poor” in terms of earthquake resistance. Retrofitting these unsafe buildings over a period of twenty to thirty years will cost at least $1.2 billion. The University of Washington campus is built on glacial till overlying thick sedimentary deposits of the Seattle Basin, possibly amplifying earthquake waves from a subduction-zone earthquake or an earthquake on the Seattle Fault. Portland State University is close to the active Portland Hills Fault.
Let’s pray that the earthquake doesn’t strike on a Sunday morning. The Nisqually Earthquake shook loose two of four spires towering over the First Baptist Church on Capitol Hill in Seattle; one of these spires weighed nine thousand pounds. Many cities have large church buildings constructed of unreinforced masonry. In most cases, the churches do not have earthquake insurance, nor do they have the money to bring their buildings up to code.
And how about those historic courthouses, built of unreinforced masonry in the nineteenth century? Lovely to look at, but dangerous to work in. The Klamath County, Oregon, the courthouse was rendered useless after an earthquake of M 6 in 1993, and the Grays Harbor, Washington, the courthouse was severely damaged during the 1999 Satsop Earthquake. On the other hand, if the building is a structure of historical significance, funds might be made available to repair it.