Should school safety conversations also include natural disasters?
- Lori Peek, director of the Natural Hazards Center and professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, asserts in a District Administration interview that poorly designed school buildings put the lives of millions of students at risk in the face of a natural disaster.
- Peek, who helped write the most recent FEMA guidelines for protecting schools against natural hazards, said that many unreinforced masonry schools are “deathtraps” because they will lead to multiple student deaths in the wake of major earthquake, and that some tornado-prone states are weakening requirements for tornado shelters in schools.
- According to a report by the National Institute of Building Sciences, the United States could save $6 for every $1 spent in strengthening school buildings, and Peek suggests that school leaders and parent groups need to advocate for changes that will protect the lives of students while seeking funding sources to improve conditions.
While much of the media attention on school safety issues has recently focused on school shootings, other school safety concerns, including the impact of natural disasters, also pose considerable risk to students. School buildings house students for a significant portion of their lives, and ensuring student safety in the event of fire, floods, earthquakes and tornadoes has to be a high priority for administrators and policymakers alike.
These disasters not only can directly affect the safety of students, but the resulting destruction of school facilities can displace thousands of students during a single event and impact learning for months or even years to come. As administrators face the legal, ethical and practical issues that can be impacted by natural disasters, they need to carefully consider these concerns as part of plans for school design and school safety.
This issue is one that affects schools across the globe, with other countries working to address these concerns, as well. An Indonesian report created in 2014 establishes guidelines for “Making School Safer from Natural Disasters.” In the United States, FEMA has released its most recent guide, entitled “Safer, Stronger, Smarter: A Guide to Improving School Natural Hazard Safety.” School administrators can use this guide as they construct new schools to replace outdated buildings or seek to mitigate damage to existing facilities. FEMA offers some funding for these endeavors in some circumstances, and many communities see this as a cause to rally behind, especially if the area has suffered natural disasters in the past.
- District Administration How schools fail at keeping children safe