Earthquake Early Warning and Schools Study

What is the Challenge?

Schools are where current and future generations of students are educated. School districts employ teachers, administrators, and other staff who deliver the curriculum and support the development of children and youth. School buildings often serve as gathering spaces and focal points within communities.

For these and many other reasons, schools are unique in terms of their societal responsibilities and the risks they face. Given their importance, this project focuses on K-12 schools in earthquake-prone regions and asks: How can we most effectively integrate ShakeAlert into schools?

To answer that question, our research team at the Natural Hazards Center, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey, launched a multi-pronged interview- and survey-based effort to learn from school administrators, teachers, students, parents, emergency managers, engineers, and others who are concerned with earthquake school safety.



Earthquake activity in Anchorage, Alaska (November 2018) and Ridgecrest and Trona, California (July 2019) underscored the importance of preparedness, especially in schools. Although published social science research on preparedness is extensive, there is less information on Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) systems and how they are integrated into existing school emergency plans and drills.

In October 2019, California became the first state to activate ShakeAlert, a regional EEW system that can send warnings of significant earthquakes to areas outside the immediate epicenter location before serious shaking occurs. The vital seconds provided by ShakeAlert can allow for automatic shutdowns of industrial and technological systems and prompt people to take protective actions—such as drop, cover, and hold on.

This research project is working to fill a major gap in the literature by assessing the readiness, willingness, and ability of K-12 schools in Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington to adapt their emergency plans to include EEW.

ShakeAlert Map
Photo credit: ShakeAlert.org, 2016

Project Overview

Phase 1: Qualitative Research in Earthquake-Affected Communities

The research team engaged in qualitative research in Anchorage, Alaska in January 2020. We conducted in-depth interviews and focus groups with administrators in the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough school districts as well as teachers, students and parents, emergency management personnel, and engineers.

Our questions focused on their earthquake experiences, damage to the built environment, and disruption to the social environment. Because Earthquake Early Warning is not yet available in Alaska, we also asked all interview respondents about their awareness and perceptions of ShakeAlert and their knowledge regarding recommended protective actions.

In February 2020, our research team collected interview and focus group data from 25 adult participants who were affected by or involved in the response to the 2019 Ridgecrest earthquakes. Specifically, we conducted in-depth interviews and focus groups with administrators in the Ridgecrest and Trona school districts as well as with teachers, parents, emergency management personnel, and engineers.

Our questions focused on their earthquake experiences, damage to the built environment, and disruption to the social environment. Because Earthquake Early Warning was recently released in California, we also asked all interview respondents about their awareness and perceptions of ShakeAlert and their knowledge regarding recommended protective actions.

Phase 2: Quantitative Survey Research in the Four-State Region of Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington

The research team will conduct an online survey among school district officials in Alaska, California, Oregon, and Washington in 2021. Specific research questions will be informed by findings from Phase 1 of the study.

Outcomes

To facilitate the integration of EEW into school emergency plans, our research will examine:

  • Existing earthquake preparedness activities in schools
  • Response, impacts, and recovery from recent earthquakes
  • Lessons learned from recent earthquakes
  • Knowledge, perceptions, and barriers to implementing EEW in schools

Presentations

Adams, Rachel. 2020. “ShakeOut and ShakeAlert: Enhancing Earthquake Preparedness Through Drills and Early Warning.” ShakeAlert Joint Committee for Communication, Education, and Outreach (JCCEO) Meeting.

Adams, Rachel. 2020. “ShakeOut and ShakeAlert: Enhancing Earthquake Preparedness Through Drills and Early Warning.” U.S. Geological Survey Social Science Working Group Meeting.

Peek, Lori. 2020. “How Can We Integrate ShakeAlert into Schools? Lessons from Earthquake-Affected Communities.” ShakeAlert Joint Committee for Communication, Education, and Outreach (JCCEO) Community Partner Meeting.

Tobin, Jennifer. 2020. “Earthquake Early Warning and Schools: Preliminary Findings from Alaska and California.” 45th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop.

Posters

Adams, Rachel, Jennifer Tobin, Jolie Breeden, and Lori Peek. “Schools, Earthquakes, and Early Warning Systems: Preliminary Findings from Alaska and California.” National Earthquake Conference.

Research Team

Principal Investigator: Lori Peek, Director, Natural Hazards Center, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado Boulder (Lori.Peek@colorado.edu)

Principal Investigator: Jennifer Tobin, Deputy Administrator, Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder (Jennifer.L.Tobin@colorado.edu)

Principal Investigator: Rachel Adams, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Natural Hazards Center and CONVERGE, University of Colorado Boulder (Rachel.Adams-1@colorado.edu)

Principal Investigator: Jolie Breeden, Lead Editor and Science Communicator, Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder (Jolie.Breeden@colorado.edu)

Program Directors: Robert DeGroot, U.S. Geological Survey (rdegroot@usgs.gov) and Sara McBride, U.S. Geological Survey (skmcbride@usgs.gov)