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Annual Earthquake Drills Left As Optional For Washington State Schools

File photo. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake could hit the Pacific Northwest in the next 50 years.
File photo. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake could hit the Pacific Northwest in the next 50 years.

Public schools in Washington state would be encouraged—but not required—to hold at least one earthquake drill per year under a measure scheduled for Gov. Jay Inslee's signature Thursday.

The legislation started out as mandating an annual earthquake drill. State Geologist Dave Norman at Washington's Department of Natural Resources said he was sorry to see it watered down.

"It's always better to require it and to say we 'must' do something,” he said. “If it is a 'may' it can go by the wayside too easily."

As a practical matter, most Washington schools already run earthquake drills. Washington's Emergency Management Division said about 70 percent of the state's students participated in the Great Shakeout "drop, cover and hold" drill last year. 

Separately, the legislation awaiting the governor's signature requires about 20 vulnerable schools along the Washington coast to practice tsunami evacuation. Students and teachers would have to walk their route to higher ground at least once per year.

The earthquake and tsunami drill standards are provisions of a broader school policy measure. The underlying legislation requires public schools to hold no less than one safety drill per month.

School administrators can vary which type of hazard to practice for each month as long as they cover all of the bases over the course of a school year such as a lockdown, shelter-in-place—for a chemical spill in the neighborhood, for example—and evacuation from fire.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.