What is the Challenge? Our nation’s elementary and secondary school buildings contain the future of our country. More than 50 million students attend approximately 99,000 public elementary and secondary schools with an additional 5.2 million students attending about 34,000 private schools (National Center for Education Statistics, 2016). Children have the right to an education in a safe environment. However, in many parts of our nation, school buildings are vulnerable to severe damage or collapse in the next earthquake, tornado, hurricane, flood, tsunami, windstorm, or other natural hazard and our children are at risk.

Project Purpose: In 2014, the Applied Technology Council (ATC), with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), commenced a two-year project to develop the FEMA P-1000 document to provide school safety guidance before, during, and after a natural hazard event. The project was designed to update existing documents and provide new state-of-the-art information on natural hazard-resistant design and policies for school buildings. To inform the development of the document, the project team conducted a literature review of more than 250 relevant resources and held focus groups with stakeholders and leaders from the education community. The final project was developed with input from design professionals, social science researchers, risk communication experts, emergency managers, school administrators, teachers, representatives of concerned parent groups, and other relevant entities.

book cover

Outcomes: The guidebook, Stronger, Safer, Smarter, focuses on operational guidance (what to do before, during, and after an event) as well as physical protection (what can be done to the school facility to improve safety). The resulting guide offers up-to-date, authoritative information that schools can use to develop a comprehensive strategy for addressing natural hazards. P-1000 presents information and guidance on:

  • identifying natural hazards that could potentially impact a school;
  • making new and existing school buildings safer for children and staff, and more resistant to damage during natural disasters;
  • planning and preparing to ensure effective and successful response during a natural disaster;
  • recovering after a natural disaster as quickly and robustly as possible;
  • engaging the whole community in the process in order to improve school and community disaster resilience.

Future Work: With FEMA’s ongoing support, ATC and the Natural Hazards Center are collaborating on translating the guidebook into a training curriculum to inform emergency managers and school leaders of the needs and possibilities related to natural hazards mitigation and schools.

Publication: Safer, Stronger, Smarter: A Guide to Improving School Natural Hazard Safety