A new law will make it optional for schools in Washington state to conduct earthquake preparedness drills. This despite the fact Washington is considered the second highest at-risk state in the country, behind California, when it comes to earthquake hazards, and that almost all of the state is at some risk of experiencing an earthquake.
The Seattle Times reports that Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill a day after convening a special subcabinet on earthquake preparedness. However, the bill has gained attention for its lack of specificity regarding seismic-safety requirements, especially when considering the original and final versions of the bill.
The first version required all schools, regardless of geographic location, to participate in at least one safety drill per month. These were outlined to include one drill using the school mapping system, one earthquake safety drill, one shelter-in-place drill, three fire evacuation drills, and one drill of choice. It also mandates that schools in mapped tsunami zones must incorporate a pedestrian evacuation exercise annually.
The final version is more vague. Schools are still required to practice at least one safety-related drill per month, but are able to choose between a shelter-in-place, lockdown, or evacuation exercise. Within those, one must use the school mapping system and schools in tsunami zones must again incorporate the pedestrian evacuation drill.
Concerning earthquake preparedness, however, the final version of the bill lacks specific language about administering seismic-safety drills. It reads schools "may incorporate" an earthquake drill if they so desire. The original text mandating at least one earthquake safety drill is no longer in place.
This subsection of the bill is meant to satisfy federal regulations for "comprehensive" school safety drills and evacuations.
More than 1,000 earthquakes occur each year in Washington state, and there have been at least 20 severely damaging seismic events in the past 125 years. Inslee's Resilient Washington State Subcabinet is dedicated to helping the state become better prepared for natural disasters. However, according to The Seattle Times, Washington state has historically done little to address its environmental vulnerability when it comes to earthquakes.