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Inventory lists number of schools most at risk in an earthquake

Feb 11, 2022, 2:10 PM
(FEMA and DEM)...
(FEMA and DEM)
(FEMA and DEM)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah— An inventory of “unreinforced masonry” in schools reveals what buildings are at greater risk of damage in an earthquake. FEMA and the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Division of Emergency Management, released this inventory or list of school buildings throughout the state.

In a release from the two organizations said the inventory has been in development for over ten years to support state efforts to identify buildings with possibly unsafe structures that would be at much higher risk in an earthquake compared to buildings constructed under modern building codes.

“The unreinforced masonry school building inventory has been an ongoing project for several years. Through FEMA’s financial support we have been able to work closely with school districts to complete the inventory and finalize the report,” said Kris Hamlet, director of the Utah Division of Emergency Management. “We believe this transparency will help unite communities and identify resources to eventually fix or replace the remaining buildings and ultimately keep our students safer.”

The inventory was completed as a collaboration of all 41 public school districts around the state. Because of this collective effort, along with support from the private sector the inventory of schools has been gradually reduced.

The Unreinforced Masonry Project identified 119 school campuses with unreinforced masonry in their construction statewide.

The release states, “Sixty years ago, about 95 percent of schools were URMs. Today, that number is around 12 percent. This represents dramatic improvements to school safety. It also represents important investments by communities that have voted for bonds to rebuild or retrofit schools to mitigate earthquake damage. Utah should be proud of the progress already made.”

Progress continues to be made in the improvement of school buildings. Alpine School District completed demolition of the Geneva School and Provo School District announced Dixon Middle School would be replaced in 2024.

“Utah has always built a culture of vision, improvement, preparedness, and resilience. This report is the result of an enormous effort from many people who care about earthquake preparedness,” said John Crofts, Utah Division of Emergency Management Earthquake Program Manager. “It is the first step towards increasing earthquake safety in our schools. We hope that this report will support the continued efforts to preserve life, property, and the environment, and to help Utah become an even stronger, more resilient state.”

The release clarified that just because a school was on the list did not mean that it was at imminent risk of collapse and defined Unreinforced masonry stating, “Unreinforced masonry — construction using brick or block without reinforcing steel or rebar — was common throughout Utah until seismic building codes became more prevalent in the 1970s. Such structures can more easily succumb to the movement and shaking during an earthquake, posing a threat to building occupants as well as individuals outside in close proximity to the structures.”

Modern codes require buildings to have reinforcing steel. The full report can be found here.

“It is extremely satisfying to see this report published. It has been a long time coming and represents an important step forward in making Utah more resilient to damage from earthquakes,” said Keith Koper, director of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations Director and chair of Utah Seismic Safety Commission. “The collaboration and unity displayed by state agencies, federal agencies, local school districts, and the private sector in producing this report is admirable.”

Validating and finalizing the statewide inventory of URM school buildings was the first recommendation and objective in the Wasatch Front Unreinforced Masonry Risk Reduction Strategy, released by FEMA in March 2021.

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Inventory lists number of schools most at risk in an earthquake