Washington Schools Face Multiple Threats From Natural Disasters

Apr 30, 2014

The Oso landslide appears to rank as the third deadliest natural disaster in Washington history – after the 1910 Stevens Pass avalanche and the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. But what if there had been a school in the path of the debris field? A new hazard report from the state shows dozens of Washington schools potentially sit in slide zones. But at least one of those schools doesn’t have to worry.

A new draft report finds that Washington schools face threats from nine different kinds of natural hazards.
Credit Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction

Holmes Elementary in Spokane is about three blocks from the Spokane River. The new report says it’s one of 28 Washington schools near a slope with a high risk of failure.

“I’m pretty shocked to be honest with you," Steve Barnes said.

Barnes is the school’s principal. He says there is a steep slope leading down to the Spokane River. But the slope goes away from his school, not toward it. So how did Barnes Elementary end up on the list of vulnerable schools? The list was generated by merging computer maps of slide zones and schools. A site visit would have crossed it off the list. So Barnes can probably rest easy. He says after years of training for active shooters and other human threats, “Natural disasters are really pretty low, if at all, on my radar." 

Barnes says this new report is a good reminder to think about what danger mother nature might pose. The biggest natural threats to Northwest schools are earthquakes and tsunamis. Washington state is currently partnering with 28 school districts in a pilot program to find ways to make schools safer from natural disaster.

Draft Washington State K-12 Facilities Hazard Mitigation Plan: http://www.k12.wa.us/SchFacilities/PDM/pubdocs/PDM-Plan-Draft.pdf

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