Senate President Peter Courtney: Schools not safe for quakes

[Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney]

SALEM — A report released today by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries provides further evidence that Oregon must move forward to retrofit school buildings and emergency services facilities so that they will not crumble in a major seismic event, Senate President Peter Courtney said Monday.

“The Geologic Hazards, Earthquake and Landslide Hazard Maps, and Future Damage Estimates for Six Counties in the Mid/Southern Willamette Valley” report indicates that an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter Scale in Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Oregon Coast would result in $12 billion in property damage and nearly 1,000 deaths in the region, which includes Yamhill, Marion, Polk, Benton, Linn, and Lane Counties.

“If a magnitude 9 earthquake off the Oregon Coast would kill 1,000 people in this section of the valley, imagine the loss of life that would be experienced in coastal communities and the Portland metro area,” said Courtney, D-Salem/Gervais/Woodburn. “We cannot wait any longer to begin the seismic retrofitting of our schools and emergency services facilities that voters approved nearly six years ago.”

In November 2002, Oregon voters approved the issuance of bonds to fund more than $1 billion worth of improvements for Oregon schools, as well as hospital emergency rooms, police stations and fire houses. The economic downturn experienced by the state in 2003 understandably slowed progress, but no bonds have yet been sold and the process meant to allot bond funds to school districts to pay for the seismic upgrading is still not in place, Courtney said.

“When the magnitude 8 quake hit China in May, we saw the devastating loss of life that can occur when school buildings collapse on classes full of children,” Courtney said. “In recent years, earthquakes have led to deadly school collapses in Italy, Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey. We cannot allow Oregon to be added to that list.”

A study completed by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries in 2007 shows that more than 1,100 school buildings in Oregon are at high or very high risk of collapsing in an earthquake. Another 500 buildings face a moderate risk.

“A major earthquake during the school day would be devastating beyond description,” Courtney said.

The Senate President said progress toward implementing the granting process has been made in recent weeks with the hiring of a grant administrator by Oregon Emergency Management.

“We cannot, however, allow the momentum we have gained since the China quake to be lost. Hopefully, this report will keep the tragic human cost of a major earthquake event first and foremost on our minds. We must move forward to make our schools safer and ensure that our first responders will have facilities they need to perform their duties when we need them most,” Courtney said.

The full report can be found at