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The final authority as to whether a school building is to be reoccupied. lies with each school district. Immediately following a damaging earthquake, power, communications and transportation routes may be disrupted and may keep structural engineers from making timely post-earthquake safety evaluations. The procedures suggested in this guidebook are intended to assist onsite school personnel in:

discovering possible earthquake damage hazards before a qualified engineer arrives at the school site, and reporting building conditions to the school district or Local Office of Emergency Services to assist in establishing a priority list for site visits by structural engineers.

School districts are encouraged to make prior arrangements with a local structural engineer.

This inspection procedure is designed for use by individuals ^with some building construction or inspection experience; however, the procedure can be used by anyone during an emergency. School districts should assign personnel at each campus, faculty as well as maintenance staff, to perform these inspections. Training of prospective inspectors is strongly encouraged.

It has proven very beneficial to keep a set of structural drawings for permanent school buildings on-site, preferably in an easily accessible location. These plans are then available to the structural engineers for post-earthquake use and can assist on-site personnel in identifying the structural systems.


In areas of severe earthquake shaking, collapsed buildings or falling debris pose substantial danger to students, faculty and staff. Strong aftershocks can also dislodge building material. The first priority is protection of the building occupants; therefore, if damage is suspected, appropriate evacuation procedures of occupants to a safe refuge area should be completed before preliminary damage inspection is undertaken. When evacuation is necessary, the inspector should perform a rapid inspection of the route to make sure it is accessible and unobstructed. If an established evacuation route is blocked, or otherwise inaccessible, an alternate route will need to be found.

If a building is clearly hazardous, no one should enter it, other than for search and rescue. Clearly, no inspector should enter a building that is near collapse, or where there has been a hazardous material release (e.g., damaged asbestos fireproofing, toxic chemical spill). Inspectors should not take any other undue risks, whatever they may be.

An inspection of a school campus should be done if the level^of ground motion was large enough to cause books to fall off shelves. Many factors in addition to the magnitude of an earthquake may contribute to the shaking intensity a building experiences. Large earthquakes at great distances and nearby small earthquakes can cause ground motions strong enough to damage buildings.

Use of judgement is essential in the evaluation of damaged buildings. Not every dangerous situation is covered by the guidelines and procedures given here. In situations for which no guidance has been provided, or when guidance furnished is not appropriate, the inspecting teams must rely on their collective experience and judgement.

Inspectors must be conscious of their own safety and that of their team members at all times. Inspectors should work in teams of at least two so help is readily available in case a student is discovered or one member of the team is trapped or injured. If the partner can not provide immediate assistance, he or she can go for help.

When conducting preliminary damage assessments, inspectors should be alert to the potential of falling objects, both inside and outside buildings. Outside a building, parapets, glass, building ornamentation and other types of attachments may fall. Inside a building, ceilings, piping and ductwork, light fixtures and heavy furniture, such as file cabinets and bookcases, may move or fall. These elements may fall of their own accord at any time during the earthquake, during an aftershock, or after the shaking stops. Inspectors should be prepared to duck, cover and hold in the event of aftershocks.

A fundamental assumption in the evaluation process is that in order to declare a structure safe, it must be capable of withstanding at least a repetition of the earthquake that caused the initial damage without collapse and without additional risk from falling (or other) hazards. It should be emphasized, however, that THIS IS A MINIMUM REQUIREMENT and a difficult engineering assessment to make. This non-technical assessment guideline provides for a cursory estimation of the safety of damaged buildings. If the inspection team is unsure as to the significance of the damage observed, errors on the side of student safety are strongly advised.


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School Earthquake Preparedness Guide - State of Arkansas
Arkansas Office of Emergency Services, 1993