Washington State is playing catch-up on seismic safety of critical buildings


More people than ever, 1.2 million in Washington state and more than 570,000 in Oregon, are registered to participate in the annual event ShakeOut’s Great Earthquake and Tsunami Exercise Thursday morning.

“It’s no coincidence that a Washington state agency is using this week to highlight how Evergreen state needs to catch up with neighboring states when it comes to earthquake preparedness.

Oregon and British Columbia have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past decade on ongoing programs to strengthen old schools, fire stations, and police stations to survive a great earthquake earthen. Washington state can’t even say how many older public buildings are at risk, let alone which ones to prioritize.

“We have over 2,000 schools — K-12 public schools — in Washington, and we’ve done a seismic assessment on 91 of those schools,” said Corina Forson, chief hazard geologist in the Department of Natural Resources. of State. “So we’re a long way off. We are behind in evaluating our schools. And then we haven’t even really started on some of our other critical facilities.”

Forson’s agency calls on the governor and legislature to allocate $ 500,000 per year on an ongoing basis to inventory seismic hazards in schools as well as to better map shallow earthquake faults and complete evacuation plans for the school. tsunami.

“For too long we have delayed it,” said state commissioner of public lands Hilary Franz, whose agency houses the state’s geology division. “If anything, we can take note of the types of natural disasters we have seen this summer across our country and the impacts they have had on people’s lives and on infrastructure and their communities. “?

Franz referred to the dislocations caused by the recent hurricanes, the recent earthquake in Mexico and the wildfires in California as a wake-up call to better prepare for natural hazards in the Pacific Northwest. ?

Forson said being proactive now could potentially save billions of dollars and thousands of lives in the event of an earthquake and tsunami. ?

Washington’s 2018 legislature has the final say on whether to increase the agency’s budget. There are many competing demands for finite dollars, including the desire of some lawmakers to use the excess revenue to mitigate an upcoming state property tax hike. ?

Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget spokesman Ralph Thomas said the administration was serious about improving earthquake preparedness, but could not immediately commit to specific things.

“We are just starting to review all agency budget requests,” said Thomas, who arrived from all corners of state government on all topics.

This week’s MNR budget request is supposed to build on the $ 1.2 million included in the 2017-19 state construction budget. This has been allocated to do seismic assessments on 280 of the most at risk school buildings. However, that construction budget stalled indefinitely when it was held hostage by the Republican-led State Senate in an unsuccessful bet to force the Democrat-controlled State House to take action on a unrelated rural well permit issue. ?

Once the seismic risk analysis is complete, a whole new budget debate is expected to take place within the legislature to determine how to pay for the structural reinforcement of buildings deemed to be deficient.

California, Oregon and British Columbia all decided long ago to take a phased approach to spread the costs over many years.

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