Seismic Safety of Schools by Country

This page contains a summary of case studies on school seismic safety from selected regions or cities in 15 countries. The case studies are not necessarily best practices, but give a broad sense of policy around the world as the selected countries vary in economic development, population, and geographic location. Click on a country below to learn about the seismic safety of schools in that region.

The information on this page was compiled from a variety of sources, indicated in each section, by EERI Public Policy Intern Sahar Derakhshan.

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Algeria
The whole coast of Algeria is located on the African and Eurasian tectonic plate boundary. This region has repeatedly experienced moderate-to-strong earthquakes. During the 20th Century, earthquakes in the country claimed at least 10,000 lives, injured about 27,000 and made approximately 550,000 homeless.
  • All schools in Algeria are state owned and were built by the government. Buildings can be classified into three categories based on their construction date.
    • About 30% of the nation’s schools were built during the colonization era (1830-1962). These buildings are characterized by a well advanced degradation by aging and lack of maintenance.
    • After independence and under the constraints of a rapidly growing population and responding to the democratization of educational opportunity, school buildings from this time period were designed and built without taking into account seismic risk.
    • School buildings constructed after 1983 were built according to the seismic building code and under technical supervision.
  • Besides a retrofitting program, educating the students and teachers is a major step to ensure the safety of schools.

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Canada
British Columbia
British Columbia’s (B.C.) west coast is Canada’s region of highest seismic hazard. Two thirds of the province’s 3.9 million people live within the zone of highest risk.
  • Older B.C. schools were built from some of the most seismically vulnerable materials including un-reinforced masonry in the early 1900′s and non-ductile concrete frames in the mid 1900′s.
  • In 2004, initial estimates from the provincial government suggest that 800 of BC’s schools might need some form of seismic upgrading.
  • The current National Building Code of Canada ranks buildings according to their priority as critical infrastructure. Schools, unless they are designated as post-disaster shelters, are assigned a lower priority than hospitals, police stations, and prisons.
  • Local school boards oversee local capital budgets and request provincial funding for projects that they deem to be a high priority.

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Central America
Many schools in Central America are vulnerable to natural hazards and could be damaged beyond the level of their normal activities. In this region, there exist different governmental, non-governmental, public, private, national and international organizations working on school planning, design, construction, repair and maintenance. However, these bodies do not necessarily deal with issues related to reducing vulnerability to natural hazards.
  • During the last decade, in some countries of the region, vulnerability reduction plans were developed with the support of the OAS’ Department of Sustainable Development. In some cases, it was found that the plans had not been implemented nor had they received support or recognition on the part of the national, regional and international institutions involved in school design, construction and reconstruction.
  • Central America School Retrofitting Program (PRECA, by its Spanish acronym) was created in January 2006 to create a sustainable process through which communities may access support to retrofit vulnerable primary and secondary schools in Central America. This is funded by grant process, which is used to complement local organizational, labor and technical assistance contributions.
  • Other agencies and plans such as The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and The Hemispheric Action Plan for the Vulnerability Reduction of the Education Sector to Natural Hazards have been formed in the region to assist schools prepare for the next earthquake.

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Chile
The Government agency dedicated to the prevention, organization, coordination and information relative to natural disasters in Chile is called ONEMI or Oficina Nacional de Emergencia del Ministerio del Interior (National Office of Emergency of the Interior Ministry). A committee was formed to cope with the aftermaths of the 1960 Valdivia earthquake, and in 1974, it became independent as a governmental office by law.
  • Since 1977, schoolchildren have practiced earthquake drills three times a year in what is known as Operación DEYSE (Evacuation and School Safety), lining up when the alarm sounds and filing into the designated open space.
  • The 8.8 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Chile on February 27, 2010, occurred during the school vacation period. Media reports comparing the two earthquakes of Chile and Haiti in the same year have noted that school buildings in Chile were much less affected because building codes were well developed and enforced, and lessons from past earthquakes have been learned.

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Colombia
Bogota
The capital city of Colombia, Bogotá, is the most important political, administrative, economic and cultural center of the country. Among the most common hazardous events affecting Bogotá are earthquakes and landslides, both of which may affect schools, where a student population of nearly one million young people spends considerable amounts of time.
  • Several risk identification methods have been put in place in the city in the past few years. These include compilation of records of disaster hazard events, generation of hazard maps, studies of physical and social vulnerability, and studies of environmental degradation.
  • Much of the educational infrastructure in Bogotá is more than 40 years old and does not meet minimal standards of safety. For this reason the Department of Education commissioned a systematic review of schools that ran from 1997-2003 (Secretaría de Educación del Distrito Capital de Santafé de Bogota 2000). This study covered approximately 2,800 buildings at 706 schools (including the addition of 16 schools resulting from new construction in 2004). About 498,000 students attend these schools –a number that amounts to roughly 54% of the student population in Bogotá. The other 46% of the student population attend private schools and was not covered in this review.
  • By law in Bogotá only hospitals require building inspection and seismic reinforcement.

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Fiji (UNCRD-SESI)
The Republic of Fiji Islands, situated in the Pacific &#34 Ring of Fire &#34, has frequent small earthquakes. It is a growing concern now that the next large earthquake close to Suva would result in more damages because of the increased vulnerability due to the haphazard urbanization of past decades.
  • The local engineer experts assessed school buildings in Fiji by the Structural Performance Score and the result showed that all buildings are failing to meet the earthquake safety standard. About 80% of the schools are categorized in the least and worst grad in terms of earthquake safety performance.
  • UNCRD is working with the government, local NGOs and several Civil Society Organizations in order to make interventions on buildings replicable and sustainable.

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India (UNCRD-SESI)
A majority of the states along the Himalayan belt are in the highest seismic zones which includes Himanchal, Uttaranchal, Assam.
  • Under the SESI project, the SEEDS school safety team carried out different programs in schools and they have prepared school disaster management plans for schools that are being retrofitted. This includes mock drills and community seminars.
  • The national government is drafting the national policy on school safety, and efforts are being made to influence the policy planning process.

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Indonesia
Indonesia is an earthquake prone country and has experienced more than twenty earthquakes of magnitude 6.5 or higher during the past years. The School Earthquake Safety Initiative (SESI) project was implemented in Indonesia from 2005.
  • In Bandung, the SESI project resulted in new fund allocation for school retrofitting within the department of Education and local government agencies.
  • The goal of the SESI project is to ensure that school children living in seismic regions in Indonesia have earthquake safe schools and local communities can build their capacity to cope with earthquake disasters.
  • In 2010, Indonesia engaged in One Million Safe Schools and Hospitals campaign, a UNISDR project conducted by National Agency for Disaster Management and the National Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction. This program is a global advocacy initiative to make schools and hospitals safer from disasters.

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Iran
Besides having earthquake safety drills at schools, one of the most important undertakings of Iranian government in reducing the seismic vulnerability of the country against the earthquake is “Study and Performing Retrofitting of the Important Buildings and Lifelines” which covers 7 structural groups and was enacted since 2003 in the form of possession of stock finances.
  • The school buildings which are considered as Important Buildings according to Code 2800 (Iranian Code of Practice for Seismic Resistant Design of Buildings) are one of the major structural groups in the aforementioned plan.
  • After participating in the World Conference on Disaster Reduction, which was held in January 2005 in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan; Iran was the first country which founded the secretariat of the “Framework for Action” as a national reference.
  • “State Organization of School Renovation, Development and Mobilization” is responsible for execution of seismic risk reduction plan and the demolition and reconstruction plan (2007) in the educational buildings. Over 40,000 classrooms has been demolished and reconstructed, and 9,000 classrooms have been retrofitted.
  • There are 3 different generations of school retrofits in the national plan:
    • From 2003 to 2007, the first generation projects was just entering to the school building process and pinpointing the problems related to studying and execution phases. Among the achievements of the first generation retrofitting projects is development of the instructions for consultant’s services list, studying costs, and widespread education and briefing of the consultants and engineers.
    • Starting in 2004, the primary aims of the second generation is the development of the studying consultant organization and the widespread education of the engineers and local offices of this organization for decentralized management of studying procedure and retrofitting of school buildings.
    • After the demolition and reconstruction of dangerous school buildings and the retrofitting of the seismically weak ones, the third generation of the national plan involves local official educating contractors through technical meetings and educational courses.
  • The National Earthquake and Safety Drill have been conducted since 1966 and now involve all 14.5 million students in more than 124,000 schools.

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Italy
Past devastating experiences has made Italy realize how zoning areas and lack of adequate seismic codes could seriously worsen the natural earthquake hazard; the CPD (Italian Civil Protection Department) therefore established a working group to upgrade both seismic zoning and codes and to assess the seismic vulnerability of buildings and other strategically important infrastructure.
  • Of the 8,104 municipalities in Italy, all are classified as ‘seismically active’ and in 2,965 (36%) of them, all new construction must observe anti-seismic building codes. These communities are home to 40% of the country’s population and therefore many of its schools.
  • The civil protection departments of several Regional governments have introduced comprehensive “Scuola sicura” (school safety) programs, notably in the northern regions of Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna, and in the autonomous Region of Sicily. The programs involve a combination of structural measures and non-structural ones, such as evacuation drills and lessons in civil protection.
  • It is widely recognized that children’s education is the key to sensitizing families about earthquake risk. With the collaboration of the Walt Disney Italia Corporation, the National Department of Civil Protection and some of the regions have invested in producing attractive safety literature for children.
  • The Tuscan municipality of Campi Bisenzio has instituted a plan in which it is recognized that self-protective strategies may need to differ according to the hazard – children practice different evacuation drills for flood and earthquake hazards.

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Japan
Every year since 1960, the country marks Disaster Prevention Day on Sept. 1, the anniversary of the 1923 Tokyo quake. At many Japanese schools, first day of class celebrations include an evacuation drill.
  • In 1981, Japan updated its building guidelines with an eye to earthquake science. The devastating Kobe earthquake spurred another round of research on earthquake safety and disaster management. In 2000, the country’s building codes were revised again, this time with specific requirements and mandatory checks.
  • At public elementary schools in Japan, earthquake drills are held once a month. Sometimes, with help from the local fire department, children also take turns practicing in earthquake-simulation devices, which are special rooms that could be shaken just as they would in a serious earthquake. At schools with three floors, the older children may also practice using emergency chutes to get to the ground from the top level.
  • Right after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, as well as the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, many public elementary and middle schools served as emergency shelters for people who had lost their homes. Some of these schools accommodated large numbers of people for several months while temporary new housing was being built.

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Nepal (Katmandu)
In Nepal, both the school buildings and their occupants face extreme risk from earthquakes because of a highly vulnerable building stock, high occupancy, and high seismic hazard. Nepal is located in one of the most seismically active regions of the world, due to the subduction of the Indian plate below the Tibetan plate.
  • Most new school buildings in Nepal are built according to convention, rather than being specifically designed. Trained technical people in Nepal are generally not involved in the school building construction process unless there is financing from the government. This is because of the low budgets for most school construction and because of a lack of awareness and knowledge on the part of engineering graduates of traditional and informal construction methodology. As a result, most school buildings lack earthquake resilience.
  • The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the World Bank initiated a program, “Developing a Strategy for Improving Seismic Safety of Schools in Nepal,” for implementation by NSET. The program aimed to develop a national strategy to improve seismic safety of schools in Nepal based on the experiences of demonstration seismic improvement works at six schools in two districts of Nepal.
  • The Nepal Disaster Risk Mangement Flagship Program has six organizations, including the Asian Development Bank, the International Federation of the Red Cross, UN ISDR, UNDP, UN OCHA, and the World Bank to come together to form a disaster risk management member consortium for Nepal. The consortium identified five priority areas for disaster risk management in Nepal:
    • School and hospital safety
    • Emergency preparedness and response capacity
    • Flood management (with river basin as a unit of planning)
    • Integrated community-based disaster risk reduction management (DRR/M)
    • Policy and institutional support
  • Since much of the school construction in Nepal takes place on a local level in a decentralized, traditional, and informal manner; a Nepalese NGO, the National Society for Earthquake Technology Nepal (NSET) conducted a program to strengthen existing school buildings and promote earthquake resilient school building construction. The program incorporated strengthening of structural as well as non-structural components of the school buildings for seismic safety. This program involved craftsman training, technology development and transfer, and community awareness rising. By raising awareness in schools, the entire community is reached because lessons trickle down to parents, relatives, and friends.

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New Zealand
New Zealand, sometimes nicknamed the Shaky Isles, is on the boundary between the Indo-Australian and Pacific plates. While New Zealand is subject to many earthquakes, it had only experienced one major earthquake involving loss of life before 2011.
  • The New Zealand Building Act regulates building design and construction. The Department of Building and Housing administers this act and approves standards for loading and all types of construction. As a result, schools and other buildings must be designed, constructed and inspected to ensure that they meet these standards. Buildings designed after 1976 were designed to consider ductility. No national standard or requirement existed for assessing the seismic performance of other school buildings.
  • In addition to the Building Act, the Ministry of Education therefore set its own requirements to minimize the possibility of school buildings collapsing and causing major injury or life loss in a major earthquake.
  • Through a structural survey conducted between 1998 and 2001, a majority of the school buildings and site structures were generally in sound structural condition. Only four buildings were found to have an unacceptable level of structural risk. Approximately 11% of the buildings were found to have at least one structural defect that required remedial work.

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Turkey
The 1999 earthquake resulted in the establishment of the General Directorate of Emergency Management, the central co-ordination agency directly under the prime minister, as well as the Natural Disaster Insurance System. Importantly, Turkey is trying to change its disaster management paradigm from response and recovery to mitigation and preparedness, and to integrate disaster management into its development policies.
  • Beyond an undergraduate or graduate degree there have been no independent or non-academic professional qualifications, proficiency standards, continuing education requirements or licensure for architects or engineers, and there have not been any qualifications for building contractors. There are also no guidelines for reliable and systematic building inspection during construction.
  • An additional problem in Turkey is that awareness of non-structural hazards remains low. Classroom doors often open inwards and shelving and laboratory equipment remains unfastened. However, concern that children advised to “drop, cover and hold” might be injured by flimsy wooden desks led to the production and distribution of 80,000 steel desks to more than 500 schools in the most vulnerable areas.
  • After the 1999 earthquake, responsibility for school construction was shifted to the Ministry of Education’s Division of Investments and Facilities (DIF). In turn, DIF appointed consultants from the private sector to oversee the new facility design and construction. DIF also developed standard designs for the new facilities, and new school construction was financed by a combination of government funds and charitable contributions raised by not-for-profit foundations. New construction and procurement laws also went into effect; however the cumulative impact of these changes and pressures is not yet known.
  • Professor Isikara, former head of KOERI, a major earthquake research institute in Istanbul , toured the country visiting schools, becoming known as “Grandpa Quake,” and produced the first children’s books and popular educational and rap music cartoons for earthquake awareness. Both the Istanbul Governor’s Office and KOERI’s newly established Istanbul Community Impact Project (ICIP) produced handouts distributed to all school children.
  • At the national level, an introduction to natural hazards was integrated into the primary school curriculum in Environmental Studies in 2002. Annual school-wide earthquake drills and preparedness and remembrance activities were initiated on November 11th 2001, to coincide with the Duzce earthquake anniversary.

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USA
California
  • The Field Act was enacted on April 10, 1933, one month after the Long Beach earthquake in which 70 schools were destroyed, 120 schools suffered major damage, and 300 schools received minor damage. The Field Act ensures that public schools buildings are designed and constructed to resist earthquake motions and is enforced by the Division of State Architect.
  • Private schools are covered under the Private Schools Building Act of 1986, with the legislative intent that children attending private schools be afforded life safety protection similar to that of children attending public schools.
  • In response to damage to school buildings in previous earthquakes, the California Seismic Safety Commission established a Committee to determine and report to the Commission the standards for seismic safety that are currently applied to public, private and charter schools in the State of California. The goal was an in-depth look at the earthquake-resistant building design and construction policies for schools; in order to provide legislators and decision makers enough information to determine if additional legislation is required to protect the safety of California’s schoolchildren.

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Oregon
In 1980s, scientists recognized the Cascadia subduction zone, located along the Oregon’s coastline, as an active fault. After this discovery, the state’s building codes were updated to address this new hazard.
  • In 2007, the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) conducted a seismic risk assessment showing 1,018 of Oregon’s 2,185 school buildings were at a “high or very high risk” of collapse during a major earthquake. The study was part of a 10-year effort to fund seismic retrofits for schools that culminated in 2009 when the Legislature approved $15 million in bond funds to upgrade K-12 facilities.
  • The Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC), otherwise known as the Earthquake Commission, has the unique task of promoting earthquake awareness and preparedness through education, research, and legislation. The mission of OSSPAC is to positively influence decisions and policies regarding pre-disaster mitigation of earthquake and tsunami hazards; increase public understanding of hazard, risk, exposure, and vulnerability through education seminars; and to be responsive to the new studies and/or issues raised around earthquakes and tsunamis.
  • Senate Bill 5506 authorizes $30 million in new General Obligation bond funding for seismic retrofits to public schools and emergency response facilities, and designates $35 million funds for planning and design of a State Capitol seismic retrofit.
  • Senate Bill 813 moves Oregon’s award-winning Seismic Rehabilitation Grants Program from Oregon Emergency Management to the Oregon Business Development Department, which will also help with economic development. The grant program requires information from the 2007 DOGAMI earthquake scores for public schools and emergency facilities.
  • Senate Bill 33 establishes a Task Force on Resilience Plan Implementation, which will build on the 2013 Oregon Resilience Plan by the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission.
    OSSPAC Chairman Kent Yu and others shared new findings from the Oregon Resilience Plan with the Legislature about the risks to Oregon’s economy, including with Senator Brian Boquist (chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness), Representative Greg Matthews (chair of the House Committee on Veterans Services and Emergency Preparedness), and Representative Tobias Read (chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development). The Oregon Resilience Plan, requested by House Resolution 3 in 2011, with assistance from 169 volunteer professionals representing public agencies, universities, and the private sector, outlines a 50-year program of assessments, public investments, and policy changes needed to make Oregon more resilient to the impact of a major earthquake and tsunami on the Cascadia Fault.

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Utah
Prior to the implementation of modern seismic building codes about 1975 and even more stringent codes in 1997, many Utah schools were built using unreinforced masonry and other materials not allowed by today’s codes. While reinforced masonry building practices – those using rebar or other materials to reinforce the structure – were improved and considered acceptable after the 1997 building code was enforced, it is unclear if most of the older reinforced masonry schools meet minimum seismic design requirements.
  • An informal Utah State Office of Education study in 2006 indicated that 58 percent of Utah schools were built before 1975, when seismic regulations began to be enforced through building codes.
  • The Utah Schools Rapid Visual Screening Pilot Project was funded with $69,000 by grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The project was intended to encourage serious consideration of the seismic vulnerability of Utah’s school buildings and action to address the problem. 60 percent of the Utah school buildings screened for this study have a one-in-100 or greater chance of collapse during the maximum earthquake considered likely, and thus requiring further evaluation of seismic safety.
  • During the 2011 Utah Legislature, legislation was introduced in the fourth formal attempt to authorize and fund rapid visual screening of schools statewide for potential seismic hazards.
  • During the 2013 session, Utah’s lawmakers approved two significant pieces of legislation to advance the seismic safety of Utah’s school buildings. HB 278S01 Public School Seismic Studies – Rep. G. Froerer and the School Building Earthquake Inspection program launched a statewide initiative to begin to address the vulnerability of older schools by creating an inventory to be used to assess and prioritize buildings.

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Washington
The Washington State Seismic Safety Committee (SSC) initiated a project to study and prepare a policy paper with the purpose of providing a framework for improving Washington’s resilience when earthquakes occur. Such a framework includes more effective seismic mitigation policies and recommendations for legislation and policy changes to improve and enhance statewide seismic safety. The document will be used to facilitate long-term implementation of seismic risk reduction policies across the state with the goal of making the state resilient in a 50-year time frame.
  • In 2010, National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program funding became available through FEMA to initiate a pilot project aimed at investigating the feasibility and costs of implementing an assessment program on resilience in Washington State. The purpose of this pilot project was to help determine an appropriate method of assessing the earthquake performance of school buildings in order to recommend future courses of action.
  • The “Resilient Washington State Initiative” is a strategic planning process for achieving state-level resilience with respect to earthquake hazards. The planning process will identify actions and policies before, during, and after an earthquake event that can leverage existing policies, plans and initiatives to realize disaster resilience within a 50-year life cycle. The Resilient Washington State plan will identify means to coordinate agencies, public-private partnerships, and standards towards this same goal.
  • Over the past 30 years the Seattle School District has identified and removed the most pressing school earthquake hazards. The district has concentrated on large structural projects to either replace or seismically strengthen facilities. It is believed that unsecured nonstructural elements could cause substantial injuries and death during an earthquake and addressing these will minimize loss of life. Seattle Public Schools partnered with the City of Seattle’s Project Impact initiative to create the School Retrofit program. This program enables the district to further improve the safety of schools by focusing on three specific areas of nonstructural retrofit: Removal of Overhead Hazards, Nonstructural Retrofit, and Automatic Gas Shutoff Valves.
  • The purpose of the School Retrofit program is to educate about the region’s seismic hazards, increase school occupants’ safety against earthquake related injuries, lessen property damage, and to speed the restoration of school programs following an earthquake.

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The information on this page was compiled by EERI Public Policy Intern Sahar Derakhshan.