Committee on Architecture for Education


Quick Links

Who we are

The Committee on Architecture for Education (CAE) is a large and active group of architects and allied professionals concerned with the quality and design of all types of educational, cultural, and recreational facilities.

Resilient Schools as shelters after earthquakes

  • 1.  Resilient Schools as shelters after earthquakes

    Posted 11-20-2017 19:14
    Oregon has been providing state support for the seismic upgrade of existing schools, the majority of which were built before 1994, the year the code changed to recognize the risk of Cascadia subduction zone earthquakes ("The Really Big One" of the  New Yorker article a few years back). As more and more of these schools are being upgraded, the conversation has shifted to the traditional role that schools have played as shelters and the realization that even schools built (or upgraded) to current code standards may not be usable as shelters following design level earthquakes. Increased concern arose when it was realized that selection of shelters is typically done after a natural hazard occurs and the shelter lists that were developed by local communities and the American Red Cross did not include seismic evaluations.  A new shelter model has been developing, based on the work of the Beaverton School District, recognized these issues.

    Starting with the goals of the Oregon Resilience Plan, which recommended that schools be able to be used as shelters following a Cascadia earthquake and that they be able to restart classes 30 days following the earthquake, the Beaverton School District committed to these standards for their new schools. The result of this effort can be found in their Beaverton School District Resilience Resilience Planning. The major elements include strengthening the school to Risk Category 4 standards, providing for longer emergency back up power, assuming that the school will be responsible for sheltering their students and staff for 72-hours, after which time the school will become a community shelter, examining the use of the school grounds for providing shelter and points of distribution, providing for emergency power that is tied to the schools photo-voltaic system, modifying the plumbing system to allow for water trailers to be hooked up to the school, ensuring the natural ventilation system is connected to emergency power, among others. What is remarkable about this effort is that for the new high school and middle school, the costs for accomplishing this was only 1-2% of the schools construction budget!

    Key to this system working is the need for a memorandum of understanding between the School District, the local community (which is responsible for providing shelters) and the American Red Cross (which is responsible for running shelters). In the case of a large natural hazards, the physical and operational requirements need to be worked out before the event, not after. While communities naturally look towards schools as shelters, this use is outside of the scope of school districts responsibilities.  The timely resumption of school is part of a school districts responsibilities, but its often overlooked in the planning process for schools. School districts need to be brought into the mass care and recovery planning process.

    The Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC), which developed the Oregon Resilience Plan has asked for a code change to require that a minimum of the public areas and gyms of new schools are built to Risk Category 4 standards is working its way through the state code adoption process. In the meantime, other school districts are studying the Beaverton School Districts resilience policies, as parents are asking them how their children's schools will fare in the earthquake. OSSPAC has also been tasked by the Oregon Legislature to look at mass care and mass displacement from a Cascadia earthquake.  Any examples of schools being effectively being integrated into shelter and recovery planning for large natural hazards would be appreciated.

    Jay Raskin FAIA
    Jay Raskin Architect
    Portland OR