District Administration July 2018 - 10

OnTopic

Lori Peek
By Tim Goral

How we fail at keeping
children safe
A new study looks at ways to prevent school casualties
when natural disasters strike

Every weekday during the academic
year, more than 50 million children
across the United States enter public
school buildings, says Lori Peek. Many
of these buildings are so dilapidated and
poorly designed that children's health
and safety are at risk. In a New York
Times editorial, Peek called these schools
"deathtraps," a term intended to shock
people into awareness.
Peek, the director of the Natural
Hazards Center and professor in
the Department of Sociology at the
University of Colorado Boulder, studies
vulnerable populations in disaster areas.
As the co-author of Children of Katrina,
she studied how the hurricane caused
long-term problems for the lives of New
Orleans school children. More recently,
Peek helped write FEMA guidelines
for protecting schools against natural
hazards (DAmag.me/fema).

DAmag.me/fail

10 July 2018

When you began this research, were
you surprised by what you learned?
I think some of the most shocking things
I learned writing the Times article and
co-authoring the FEMA guidebook are
related to the number of children who
could die in this nation if there is a major
earthquake along the Cascadia Fault or
along the Wasatch Front.
There are so many unreinforced masonry schools in Nevada and Utah and
Washington that we definitely know
that if big earthquakes happen during
the school day, children will perish in
those events. If I would have talked to
you even eight years ago, I probably
couldn't have told you what an unreinforced masonry building is.
Now consider tornadoes. About
1,200 occur annually in the United
States. Oklahoma is one of the most
tornado-prone states in the nation.
Fifty-six Oklahoma schools were damaged or destroyed by tornadoes in 2013.
In researching the article, I found that
fewer than half of public schools in
Oklahoma have a tornado shelter-and
in 2017 the Oklahoma Uniform Building Code Commission quietly removed
the requirement that new schools have
them. I could literally see, via track
changes, where they struck through the
requirements that new schools have
storm shelters. It was shocking to see
that, especially knowing that Illinois,
around the same time, had made it
mandatory that all new schools have
these storm shelters.

The National Institute of Building Sciences reports that the nation could save
$6 for every $1 it invests in strengthening school buildings. Not to get political, but it's hard to say we don't have
the money when you look at things like
military budgets.
Right, and you would think anybody
across the political spectrum would get
behind a statistic like that. You would
think everyone would say yes, I want to
invest that $1 on the front end so we can
save so much more on the back end. Even
in this highly polarized environment we're
living in, this is the one thing we should
all get behind, right? Nobody wants to
see children going to these crumbling
schools, nobody wants to see a child have
their life literally put at risk or have their
opportunity for learning diminished.
But then when it comes down to the
question of how we are going to make
these investments, it gets tricky. That
report also says it would take $1 billion
dollars to put a storm shelter in every
school in Oklahoma. Now, if I'm a superintendent in an Oklahoma district, I'd
say, "Yes, of course I want a storm shelter,
but I also have 50-year-old textbooks that
I'm teaching from in my schools."
This is why, as disaster researchers, we
try to get people to think about what we
call "low-probability/high-consequence"
events. We understand that on any given
day there's a low probability that today
will be the day that the Cascadia Fault
ruptures, but if today is that day then
there is a high probability that thouDistrict Administration


http://www.DAmag.me/fema http://www.DAmag.me/fail

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration July 2018

District Administration July 2018 - 1
District Administration July 2018 - Cover1
District Administration July 2018 - Cover2
District Administration July 2018 - 1
District Administration July 2018 - 2
District Administration July 2018 - 3
District Administration July 2018 - 4
District Administration July 2018 - 5
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District Administration July 2018 - Cover3
District Administration July 2018 - Cover4
District Administration July 2018 - 82
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