Olympia, WA -- On February 28, 2001, mitigation and safety measures in the Lake Washington School District were put to the test when the 6.8 Nisqually Earthquake hit the Puget Sound area of western Washington. Ironically, one of the teachers had told her students that there would be an earthquake drill sometime during the day. When the real quake struck later that afternoon, one child responded with "How d' you make it feel so real? Can you do it again?"
Due to the district's on-going safety drills, the children and teachers were well trained and knew exactly what to do. In some cases, the children told the adults to drop, cover and hold.
Major earthquakes are not as frequent for Washington residents as they are for Californians, but that hasn't prevented state officials from taking action to protect property and lives. Besides the on-going safety drills, 40 of the buildings in the district were saved from earthquake damage by either new construction or seismic retrofit.
"The district's buildings were all tested. Nothing failed, and there were no injuries," said Forrest Miller, director of Support Services for Lake Washington School District. According to Miller, only one light fixture fell, though there was a quarter of a million dollars in superficial damages.
With Lake Washington having a student population of 25,000, the school district in 1992 chose to secure the services of local engineers to look at school buildings to assess the seismic safety of each facility. The result was a matrix of projects that was prioritized and scheduled over a number of years. An incremental solution was necessary, since schools depend on local dollars to fund capital projects, and all the seismic projects could not be funded at the same time.
A construction levy was passed in the 1992 general election to raise seismic upgrade funds. A two-year levy also was initiated in 1996 and then a four-year levy in 1998 that totaled $5 million. Since the funds were issued in six-month allotments, the focus was first on structural seismic projects and then non-structural mitigation in the buildings.
"I'm impressed with the people in this District who got things done," Miller said. To construct a new school building would have cost at least $50 million, and to find temporary housing for classrooms would have cost tens of thousands. But because of this community's support, foresight, and perseverance, injury was avoided and millions of dollars were saved.