School reenacts earthquake catastrophe

May 20, 2008 7:28:31 PM PDT
In the Sichuan province, where the quake was centered, nearly 7,000 classrooms collapsed. The question for experts and for parents here is: What about California public schools? Could they withstand a 7.9 earthquake like the one in China?

At 10:45 Tuesday morning, the ground did not shake, but students at Oak Avenue School in Los Altos went through the motions.

Once it was over, they practiced leaving the classrooms, walking quickly to a safe open area. Some teachers have even been trained on how to search and rescue students who are trapped.

It was a comprehensive earthquake drill that included performing first aid procedures on students.

"The district, some time ago, did training that was led by the fire department. Some of the teachers who were there at that point went through that training, and it was a very detailed training," says Principal Dave McNultey.

Tuesday's drill also included dealing with nervous parents once they get on campus.

This drill had been planned months before the earthquake in China.

"I think it makes us remember that this is very serious and it will happen here someday," says former California Seismic Safety Commissioner Dan Shapiro.

And if it does, Shapiro says California public schools are expected to withstand a major earthquake.

"I think our schools are among the safest buildings that we have in the United States."

That's because in 1933, California passed what is known as the Field Act. It said California must have strict seismic safety standards for public school construction.

The Field Act came as a result of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake when 70 schools collapsed. No kids died because the quake happened at 5 p.m.

"This meant we had to fasten the walls to the floors so that walls wouldn't fall away from the building. We had to make the walls stiff so they wouldn't distort much," says Shapiro.

Shapiro says the schools that crumbled in China should have been reinforced with steel bars.

There are some schools that may be considered risky, but those built to Field Act standards should make it.


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