At the November 9, 2017 meeting of the Seismic Safety Commission staff member and licensed structural engineer Fred Turner presented an update on the earthquake safety of public schools.

He confirmed that over 530,000 California students are enrolled in private K-12 schools, representing almost 8% of all K-12 students statewide.  There are 3,075 schools of which 78% are religious and 22% secular and a larger, but unknown number of buildings. And these buildings have a wide spread of age, some date before 1933 and the Long Beach earthquake that lead to the Field Act, which mandated high safety standards for schools that receive public funding.

But the Field Act does not apply to private schools and this leaves student attending these institutions potentially at higher risk from earthquake related harm.  November was not the first time that the Seismic Safety Commission has examined the topic and the need remains today.  San Francisco has recently mandated inspection of private schools, and it is an important first step.

Mr. Turner, in his testimony before the Commission, reiterated the need for better standards and summarized the prior Commission recommendations, which are still relevant today:

  • Complete seismic evaluations & ratings of all private schools
  • Modify Private Schools Seismic Safety Act to support compliance
  • Provide education & training to local governments which oversee implementation of the Private Schools Seismic Safety Act
  • Support private schools in their efforts to improve structural safety
  • Evaluate & require nonstructural retrofits, and
  • Regulate securing of school contents.

These are important activities to protect the lives and health of over 500,000 students in California. Attending a private school should not bring with it higher risk of earthquake related injury or death.