You might have earthquakes on the brain after watching all those harrowing videos from Japan. I know I do. It seemed like a good time to dust off an article I wrote about earthquake safety laws for school buildings and why they apply to some schools but not others. Here’s the heart of the debate:

California public schools are seen nationally as the gold standard for seismic safety under an exacting law called the Field Act.

But not all schools are subject to the rules. Preschools aren’t covered by them. Private schools are covered by a separate, slightly less demanding law, which doesn’t apply at all to older private schools. And charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run, don’t fall under the Field Act unless they accept state facilities money — something that is rare here — or use district buildings.

That means that charter and private schools don’t always have to occupy buildings that meet the same rigorous earthquake standards as public schools. If charters or private schools use older buildings, such as churches or offices, they may have passed muster under older, lesser codes. …

Yet experts and legislators disagree over whether the law is needed to keep kids safe. The Field Act’s critics argue that as city building codes have grown stronger, the act has become overkill, delaying public school construction and making it more costly — when less stringent but still effective city codes would suffice. Newly built schools, such as the imagined schoobrary, fall under more recent, tighter city rules. Project supporters say those city rules are ample protection from earthquake dangers.

You might also be interested in this article from California Watch, which highlighted concerns about earthquake safety at a San Diego State University library. Got other useful links about seismic safety? Tips on safety risks worth looking into? Please email me!

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter:

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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