School Seismic Safety

A WGS scientist collects seismic data near Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington.

The School Seismic Safety Project (SSSP) is a multi-year statewide effort by the Washington Geological Survey (WGS) and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to assess the seismic vulnerability at public K-12 schools in Washington and communicate these results to school districts, policy makers, and members of the public. Below you'll find the results of these assessments and a summary of our methods. Use the interactive map to find reports for your school district. This is an ongoing project; new data and reports will be updated as they are completed.

What's new?

New reports and updates from the SSSP team will be announced here.

Access School Seismic Safety Reports

The following interactive map is regularly updated with new reports as they are released. Clicking on a school district will show you links to all currently available results, including:

  • Phase 1 engineering reports—the results of an engineering seismic screening evaluation and, for a subset of schools, a more detailed concept-level seismic upgrade design analysis.
  • Phase 2 engineering reports—the results of an engineering seismic screening evaluation and, for a subset of schools, a more detailed concept-level seismic upgrade design analysis.
  • Phase 1 and 2 site class assessment reports—compiled one-page reports that provide a site class assessment for each school in the district.
  • District-wide site class assessment reports—multi-page reports containing site class assessments for every school in each district.

Click here to open the map in full screen.
User note: Districts shaded green in the interactive map have reports available; click on a district to see what reports are available for download. Because there have been multiple iterations of the SSSP, sometimes multiple reports are available for one district. We recommend downloading all available reports for the district you are interested in.

Learn more about the project

History of the School Seismic Safety Project

School Seismic Safety Pilot Project 2011

In 2011, the Washington State Seismic Safety Committee published a report describing a project aimed at assessing the seismic vulnerability at K–12 schools in the state. This pilot project focused on collecting geologic and engineering information at two school districts: Aberdeen and Walla Walla. This pilot project paved the way for future efforts to assess the seismic risk for Washington schools.

Resilient Washington Initiative 2012

In 2012, the Washington State Seismic Safety Committee published a report providing a framework for long-term implementation of seismic risk reduction policies and activities across the state with the goal of making the state resilient to earthquakes within a 50-year timeframe. The initiative set forth the following mission statement:

“A resilient state is one that maintains services and livelihoods after an earthquake. In the event that services and livelihoods are disrupted, recovery occurs rapidly, with minimal social disruption, and results in a new and better condition.”

From this principal objective, the committee developed ten recommendations for improving earthquake resilience in Washington (see table below). The number one recommendation is:

“Make schools resilient: structurally, socially, and educationally”

This report, and the recommendations identified within it, laid the groundwork for the School Seismic Safety Project.

Recommendation one from the 2012 Resilient Washington State report.

2017 to 2019—School Seismic Safety Program Phase 1

Phase 1 of the School Seismic Safety Project was funded in July 2017. Geologic field assessments and engineering building surveys were conducted at schools across the state. The final report for the project was finished in June 2019 and submitted to the governor, the legislature, and the school districts who were a part of the study. As part of Phase 1:

  • WGS assessed the NEHRP seismic site class at 94 school campuses and five fire stations.
  • WGS contracted a structural engineering firm to perform engineering seismic evaluations of 222 public school buildings.
  • WGS contracted an engineering firm to performed more detailed engineering seismic analyses for 15 of these 222 buildings in order to evaluate seismic upgrade strategies and determine how much it may cost to bring each building up to current seismic building codes.

2019 to 2021—School Seismic Safety Program Phase 2

The second phase of the School Seismic Safety Project began in July 2019, with geologic field assessments and engineering building inspections at 339 school buildings beginning in the fall. The final report for the project was finished in June 2021 and submitted to the governor, the legislature, and the school districts who were a part of the study. As part of Phase 2:

  • WGS assessed the NEHRP seismic site class at 146 school campuses and one fire station.
  • WGS contracted an engineering firm to perform seismic evaluations of 339 public school buildings.
  • WGS contracted an engineering firm to perform more detailed seismic analyses for 17 of these 339 buildings, which helped us design develop a seismic upgrade design a seismic upgrade strategy and estimate the cost to bring each building up to current seismic building codes.

Ongoing Work

In 2021, WGS received additional funding from the Washington State Legislature to complete site class assessments at school districts across the state. This ongoing work will improve our understanding of how subsurface geology may impact seismic hazard at schools, help reduce the cost of engineering evaluations, and provide valuable information for understanding earthquake hazards statewide.

WGS will continue to update the shear wave database with new shear wave velocity and site class information, as well as publish district wide site class reports (available by clicking on a district on the interactive map near the top of this page). WGS also delivers site class and shear wave data to OSPI's Information and Condition of Schools (ICOS) inventory.

WGS is no longer conducting or contracting engineering evaluations of school building as part of our seismic safety assessments because the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is now working with school districts to complete these assessments as part of a larger seismic safety retrofit program, described in the OSPI's School Seismic Safety Retrofit Program section below.

Seismic safety assessment methods

Assessments of school seismic safety have included three components:

  1. A seismic site class assessment conducted by geologists at all selected schools
  2. An initial seismic screening evaluation by structural engineers at all selected schools
  3. A more detailed concept-level seismic upgrade design developed by engineers for a small subset of participating schools

Starting July 2021, WGS no longer contracts engineers to complete engineering assessments at school campuses. SSSP is now focusing on conducting site class assessments (item 1 in the list above) for every campus in the state.

These activities are described in more detail below, and a full technical description of our methods for site class assessments is available in WGS Open File Report 2019-01 (click here to download the report as a pdf).

An initial engineering seismic screening evaluation includes:

  • An on-site investigation of the school buildings to screen for potential hazards. Licensed structural engineers evaluated building type, age, configuration, condition, and other features in order to determine how the building would react during an earthquake.
  • Creation of an engineering report to document the findings from each school building. These reports were distributed to schools and districts to support seismic improvement work.
  • Input of this seismic screening information into OSPI's Information and Condition of Schools (ICOS) database so that results are available to OSPI and can be found in their statewide database of school information.

A site class assessment of each school campus involves:

  • An on-site assessment of the seismic site class of the soils using geophysical methods. Seismic site class is related to soil type and determines the level of earthquake shaking expected at the site. Read more about these assessments under Site Class Assessments below.
  • Creation of a site class assessment report for each campus that takes into account other geologic hazards that could potentially impact school structures.

A concept-level seismic upgrade design conducted at a small subset of schools includes the initial seismic screening evaluation plus the following:

  • Drawings that show how seismic upgrades could be made, as well as a review of how the proposed upgrades would affect the architecture of the school. Analysis of how changes in architecture would affect whether the building could keep people safe during an earthquake and whether the building could be used again immediately following the earthquake.
  • Creation of a design report for each facility.
  • Additional screenings and calculations to determine a cost-effective way to seismically upgrade the school building, including a final estimated cost to upgrade.

The concept-level seismic upgrade designs provide: (1) more detailed information about the structural and nonstructural seismic deficiencies of each building, where structural refers to the building structure and framing and nonstructural refers to components such as architectural features and finishes, building envelope, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems; (2) design solutions for how to lessen the impact of these seismic deficiencies in the event of an earthquake; and (3) an estimate of how much it would cost to bring the building up to seismic code. Based on this information we can extrapolate our findings to other buildings in the state. This will help us better understand the scope of seismic risk and the cost to conduct seismic upgrades for all schools across Washington State.

Site Class Assessments

At each school campus, a team of DNR geology personnel conducted a seismic survey to determine the soil site class at that school following guidelines set by the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP). Site class categories inform scientists and engineers about how the soils under a school will likely amplify ground motion during an earthquake and is a crucial parameter in seismic design. We determine site class for a school by measuring how fast shear waves travel through the upper 30 meters (~100 feet) of the ground.

Shear waves are the earthquake waves that create the strongest shaking and are the most damaging to buildings during an earthquake. This measurement, known as Vs30, is correlated with site class using the table shown below (adapted from NEHRP). Different types of soil and rock can make earthquake shaking stronger at the surface. Site class therefore tells us about the potential for ground shaking in a particular area during an earthquake. Engineers use the site class information for a school to ensure that the building upgrades will be able to withstand the expected amount of shaking at that location.

Table: NEHRP site class categories. Vs is the time-averaged shear wave velocity down to 30 m (~100 ft), also called Vs30. Softer soils typically make ground shaking stronger. Site class definitions based on table 20.2-1 in ASCE 2022.

Identifying Potential Natural Hazards

In some of our reports we also include a preliminary assessment of mapped geologic hazards that may affect each school. The following hazards were considered:

  • Lahars—Dangerous mudflows that occur when a landslide or eruption rapidly melts snow and ice on a volcano
  • Faults—Fractures in the Earth's crust that produce earthquakes
  • Landslides—Dangerous downhill movements of rock, soil, or debris
  • Tsunamis—A powerful and destructive series of ocean waves caused mainly by earthquakes and landslides

The hazard identifications in the reports are preliminary. Even if a hazard is not identified for a school in this report, hazards may still exist. More information on geologic hazards is available on the WGS Geologic Hazards webpage.

OSPI School Seismic Safety Retrofit Program

In 2022, the Legislature enacted Substitute Senate Bill 5933, creating the School Seismic Safety Grant Program for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). This program provides grants to school districts and state-tribal education compact schools to cover the costs of retrofitting or relocating schools located in high seismic areas or tsunami zones. The Legislature provided the first installment of $100 million to address the seismic and tsunami risks facing our schools, and OSPI is continuing to request state funding for this program. Our continued efforts to assess site class at school campuses supports both OSPI's mandate and statewide earthquake resiliency goals established by the 2012 Resilient Washington Initiative.

Meet The Team

For general questions about the SSSP, contact Corina Allen. For specific questions about seismic site class assessments, selection of schools for inclusion in the project, or scheduling of field data collection please contact Travis West or Alex Kover.

Travis West
School Seismic Safety Project Lead
(360) 764-0347
Corina Allen
Chief Hazards Geologist
(360) 791-0647
Alex Kover
School Seismic Safety Project Geophysicist
(360) 890-0361
Kirill Ivanov
School Seismic Safety Project Geophysicist
(564) 233-1110


Directly download reports and data

Summary reports delivered to the legislature

These reports provided updates on the progress of the SSSP as it developed, and summarize key overall findings from each phase.

Phase 1 (2017–2019)
An initial Phase 1 progress report submitted to the legislature on September 28, 2018 can be found here. The final Phase 1 report submitted to the legislature on June 28, 2019 can be found here.

Phase 2 (2019–2021)
The final Phase 2 report submitted to the legislature on June 30, 2021 can be found here.

Site Class Data and Reports

Site class assessments are stored in a Shear Wave Database, which is viewable in the interactive WGS Geologic Information Portal. For each site we provide the measured Vs30 and the one-dimensional shear wave depth profile from which we calculated the Vs30.

You can also download the Shear Wave Database as a geodatabase by visiting the GIS Data and Databases page and clicking the download link for Shear Wave Database.

Individual District and School Reports

Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the School Seismic Safety Project produced individual reports for each school that was assessed. Since the end of Phase 2, the project provides Vs30 measurements and site class assessments grouped by school district. Both the individual school reports and the district reports are accessible via the interactive map above, or in the following pdf compilations:

Phase 1 (2017–2019)
A publication detailing the methods and results for Phase 1 of the site class assessments, including an appendix containing the reports for each of the school campuses in Phase 1, can be downloaded by clicking here.

Phase 2 (2019–2021)
Download a bundled compilation of all the Phase 2 geologic site class assessment reports by clicking here.

District Site Class Assessment Reports (2021–present)
Starting in 2021, SSSP is shifting from individual school reports to district-wide reports that include site class assessments for all the schools in a given district. These reports will be made available through the interactive map above as they are completed.

Engineering assessments

Phase 1 (2017-2019): Four engineering reports outline the results of the Phase 1 engineering seismic screenings:

Phase 2 (2019-2021): Four engineering reports outline the results of the Phase 2 engineering seismic screenings:

Concept level designs

The concept-level seismic upgrade design reports for Phases 1 and 2 are available bundled as the two 'Volume 4' reports above, or individually for each school building by clicking on the names below:

Phase 1 (2017–2019)

Phase 2 (2019–2021)

Fire Stations

Engineering seismic screening reports that contain the results of the concept-level seismic upgrade designs conducted at seven fire stations—five as a part of Phase 1, and two as a part of Phase 2.

Volume 5: Seismic Upgrades Concept Design Reports for Fire Stations—This volume combines the reports for the Hoquiam and Tacoma fire stations (available individually from the list above).