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Coastal schools will be mandated to do earthquake, tsunami drills


OLYMPIA -- Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation into law on Thursday requiring school safety drills across the state, including mandatory earthquake and evacuation drills for schools that are mapped in tsunami hazard zones.

“Critical infrastructure is more than just buildings, it’s our kids,” said Washington Emergency Management Division Director Robert Ezelle. “Funding education is a priority, but so is preparing our kids for disasters. That’s what this legislation does.”

Ezelle says it’s important to practice safety drills so that when youth grow up, it’s ingrained in them as adults.

Substitute House Bill 1279 requires regular safety-related drills when school is in session, including drills that focus on using school mapping information system, lockdowns, shelter-in-place and fire evacuation in accordance with the state fire code and one other safety-related drill to be determined by the school.

Maximilian Dixon, the earthquake program manager for Washington Emergency Management Division, says he’s hoping that the “other safety” drill that schools choose to conduct is an earthquake drill.

“Earthquakes are a threat that every corner of the state faces – from Spokane to the Long Beach Peninsula,” Dixon said. “Children across the state benefit from learning how to drop, cover and hold on.”

Dixon encourages schools to register for the Great Washington ShakeOut, conducted the third Thursday each year. This year, the drill is slated for 10:19 a.m. on Oct. 19. In 2016, 731,547 children participated in ShakeOut, mainly in schools. In 2015, that number was 662,466. He’s hoping the legislation will lead to even more participation in ShakeOut, which topped 1.1 million people in the state of Washington for the first time last year.

Among the long list of recommendations issued from the Resilient Washington Report in 2012 was that legislation be enacted requiring school districts to conduct at least one earthquake safety drill per school year. In addition, the report recommends that schools in mapped tsunami hazard zones should conduct a pedestrian evacuation drill annually with a specific recommendation to use the existing Great Washington ShakeOut Earthquake Drill registration to track metrics related to progress and participation.


Supporters of the school safety legislation stand with Gov. Jay Inslee as he signs the bill
into law on May 4, 2017 (Legislative Support Services Photography Department).

The approved legislation takes care of part of the recommendation, but not all of it. A subcabinet appointed by Gov. Inslee is currently looking at the recommendations from the report.

The original legislation did include statewide mandatory earthquake drills, but the legislation was changed in the Senate, according to Nancy Bickford, the intergovernmental affairs and policy director for the Washington Military Department. The approved legislation states that the safety drill “may incorporate an earthquake drill using the state-approved earthquake safety technique ‘drop, cover, and hold,’ but that’s not required. The key word in the legislation is “may,” according to Bickford.

“Thank you to everyone who helped us get this far,” Dixon said.

Dixon notes he’s also been promoting a new “2 Weeks Ready” campaign to encourage more preparedness for earthquake and tsunami threats.

The public can locate tsunami inundation and tsunami evacuation maps, courtesy of the state Department of Natural Resources.