June 6th, 2008 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, Schools

Before the Big One Hits, Listen to OPB and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

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OK, so WWire is a little late to this. But last month over at The New York Times a Portland geohazards expert talked extensively with science writer Andrew Revkin about the potential impact of a big earthquake on Oregon's aging public schools.

The expert, Yumei Wang, made a second appearance on May 27 in the print edition of the paper. An excerpt from that sobering article, "Turning Schools From Death Traps Into Havens," which followed the huge and deadly quake in China on May 12, is here [emphasis mine]:

The persistent vulnerability is not limited to remote regions of developing countries, but extends to the city centers of places as cosmopolitan as Portland, Ore., and Istanbul, both of which face looming seismic shocks.

Yumei Wang, the director of Oregon's geohazards team, said a quick evaluation last year found that 1,300 of the state's schools (housing 340,000 students) and emergency-services buildings had a “high or very high” risk of collapse in a substantial earthquake.

And the region faces the near-inevitable prospect of a great earthquake on the Cascadia fault, possibly a 9.0 — 32 times more powerful than the 8.0-magnitude temblor in Sichuan. The last such quake there occurred in 1700, raising a tsunami potent enough to be recorded in Japan.

On May 20, Carl Farrington, vice chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission, wrote to Gov. Ted Kulongoski to request that the governor include in his 2009-2011 budget some funding for bonds of up to $200 million for the seismic mitigation of public buildings. Farrington repeated Wang's warning:

[I]n Oregon, there are more than 90,000 kindergarten to high school students going to schools in structures that have a very high potential for collapse. There are more than a quarter million more K-12 students going to school in structures that have a high potential for collapse. That puts more than 340,000 of Oregon's K-12 schoolchildren in buildings that have high and very high collapse potential in a seismic event.

Both OPB and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer will be discussing this topic in more depth in the coming days. Wang tells WWire that OPB 91.5 will air its piece Monday morning. So listen in!

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