There were three words that Kyla Calvert and I heard over and over as we asked school districts about the buildings flagged possible earthquake risks: The Field Act.

School district officials across San Diego County argued their buildings are safe because they’re covered by the Field Act, a state law that sets a demanding level of oversight and inspection for California school buildings.

Under the 1933 law, schools must have a state inspector continuously watch their construction. One engineer compared it to making a soup with a professional chef watching over your shoulder, making sure each step is done correctly. It is widely seen as the gold standard of school construction nationwide.

But the Field Act is not a magic bullet for school safety. Even under the Field Act, the standards for how schools are built have evolved over time. So the school buildings that were built in the ‘60s under the Field Act were built to different standards than those that were built under the Field Act last year.

In our story about earthquake safety in schools, we focused on how school districts and the state followed up on concerns about some schools built before 1978, after building codes were beefed up following the San Fernando Earthquake. The Field Act was in effect before that, but the rules were different.

More than a decade ago, California lawmakers became worried that some of those schools might be prone to collapse because they were built under “obsolete regulations.”

Here is what changed in those building codes: California ramped up the amount of force that concrete and masonry buildings should withstand by 40 percent. It also insisted on a tighter web of steel underneath concrete to keep it together in a quake.

Many schools were built before those new rules went into effect, which is why they might be at risk — and why we wanted to follow up.

Emily Alpert is the education reporter for What should she write about next? Please contact her directly at

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Emily Alpert

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

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