State performs tests to see how schools may respond to earthquakes

FIFE, Wash. -- Scientists from the state Department of Natural Resources are performing tests across Washington to see how schools would handle an earthquake.

On Thursday, DNR officials lined the fields outside of Fife High School with scientific readers to measure seismic waves.

“When we have our next big earthquake, not if, but when, we should all know if the building that we’re in, the house we’re in, the school we’re in is built and is capable of withstanding that earthquake,” said Corina Forson, chief hazards geologists for the Department of Natural Resources.

She and a team of geologists are going to schools across the state of Washington that were built before 2003, when the current building codes were instated.

Her team is testing how hard or soft the ground is.

The way they do this is by placing readers along the ground, and then use a sledge hammer to create seismic waves.

Geologist say earthquakes will affect structures on softer ground much more than on harder ground.

Inside the schools, engineers are testing to see the effect an earthquake would have on the building.

“A lot of the reason a lot of us going into engineering is to protect the public,” said Dave Swanson, a structural engineer with Reid Middleton. The company is working with DNR to help complete the research.

Swanson says he and his team are looking for several things inside the schools. They check to see what the schools are made of, how the schools were put together, and the current conditions the schools are in.

“The work we’re doing can impact the seismic safety of our schools for the next two decades,” said Swanson.

The information from Swanson’s team on the buildings, combined with DNR’s tests on the grounds around the schools, will get sent to school districts, lawmakers and the public.

“We’re giving the people in power the tools they need to make decisions to save lives,” said Forson.

In total, DNR will look at about 200 different buildings throughout the state. However, there are thousands of school buildings. Forson says the goal is to expand their study.