Arlington School District drafts disaster readiness plan

ARLINGTON — The school district here is putting together a plan to prepare for natural disasters.

The plan is meant to address hazards that might threaten schools and other district buildings. It lays out suggestions for how to update buildings and add rules or routines to keep people and property safe.

Planners say damage from disasters can be minimized by teaching people about preparation, making sure buildings are up to safety standards and having a plan for how to react in case of an emergency.

The Arlington School District started putting together a plan for natural hazards in 2014, said Brian Lewis, executive director of operations. Though that was the same year as the Oso mudslide, the plan is not directly related to that deadly disaster, he said. It’s a document that had been requested by state and federal agencies.

“The hazard mitigation plan focuses on all forms of major natural hazards,” Lewis said. “It’s not just landslides that are associated with this plan, and it is a FEMA-approved document, so it goes beyond things we might experience here.”

A draft of the district’s plan now is available online. Officials are looking for suggestions from the public. The goal is to bring the plan to the school board for revisions and approval by the end of February. From there, it goes through state and then federal agencies, ending with a review by FEMA.

Comments are being accepted online and a public meeting is planned for Feb. 7. To view the plan or leave a comment, go to asd.wednet.edu/administration/facilities.

“Take the time to ask questions if you have any,” Lewis said. “We’re doing our due diligence to protect the safety of our students and the community.”

The document looks at where the level of risk from natural hazards might be “unacceptably high” and how it could be reduced. Local governments and districts must adopt plans in order to be eligible for some FEMA grants.

All of Arlington’s schools are close enough to active faults — as is the case throughout Western Washington — to have a high likelihood of experiencing an earthquake at some point, though the level of risk depends largely on the condition of buildings, planners say.

Post Middle School also is considered to be at moderate to high risk from a landslide and Kent Prairie Elementary School is at low landslide risk.

None of the district’s buildings are thought to be threatened by a tsunami, volcanic eruption, flood or wildfire. The structures are not within volcanic hazard zones, are above known floodplains, are miles from the coast and have easy access to water and limited vegetation nearby to fuel fires.

The document recommends retrofitting or replacing buildings that are not up to earthquake standards and having a plan for how to react in an earthquake and evacuate afterward. Those already are being drilled with students and staff, Lewis said.

To move forward with seismic updates for buildings in the district, a study is needed that goes beyond the routine survey of conditions, Lewis said. Adopting a hazard plan would let the district qualify for grants to pay for such a study.

The draft plan also suggests working closely with the city, local businesses and emergency responders to make sure response and recovery is coordinated across agencies. Teaching people about natural hazards and setting up a section of the high school and local libraries with resources, including a copy of the plan, is another recommendation.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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