School Facility Mitigation Working Group

June  5, 2013


Rationale: Children in our schools remain one of our most vulnerable populations, and yet recent disasters in Kansas, Connecticut, Missouri, Georgia, and elsewhere have highlighted the reality that school buildings are not necessarily well designed for disaster safety. Some of the factors that have contributed to building failure or casualties among children and staff include:

  • Windows in the great majority of all rooms, even restrooms;
  • Hallways with doors, frequently glass, at one or both ends. This contributes to a “wind tunnel” effect when the doors are structurally compromised;
  • A lack of interior rooms. Buildings are frequently designed with wings so that most, if not all, of the rooms have exterior walls;
  • The use of trailers and “pre-fab” classrooms to accommodate expanding school populations;
  • Auditoriums, cafeterias, and gymnasiums with long-span roofs that cannot be used as effective shelters;
  • Offices so far removed from main entrances that people entering and leaving the building cannot be adequately screened before being in the building;
  • Open, modular construction that allows for difficulty in sheltering from high wind events or intruders on campus.

With that in mind, we propose that a working group of subject matter experts in appropriate disciplines begin to look at ways by which this situation can be corrected.

Mission: To develop guidelines for use by school districts and building professionals in designing,  constructing, and retrofitting school facilities that are more resistant to natural and man-made disasters.

Members: In order to effectively mitigate against hazards, while remaining true to the primary mission of schools, and while taking into account other significant considerations – for example, energy efficiency or law enforcement concerns – the group needs to have a broad coalition of disciplines and represent a wide variety of lines of service. These could include (but certainly not be limited to) professionals in the following disciplines:

  • Academia
  • Architecture
  • Code Development and Enforcement
  • Public Communication
  • Emergency Management
  • Structural Engineering
  • Mitigation
  • Floodplain Management
  • Health/Public Health
  • Law enforcement
  • Legal
  • Media
  • Political Advocacy
  • School Administration/Curriculum Development
  • Meteorology/Climatology
  • Social Science
  • Insurance
  • Vulnerable Populations

Draft Objectives:

  • Review the history of structural damages and casualties in school related disasters;
  • Review existing building techniques that may have contributed to or exacerbated those damages or casualties;
  • Apply or adapt existing disaster-resistant building techniques to educational facilities; as a beginning of a larger effort to proselytize for a “Whole Community” approach to a safer more resilient future for our Nation;
  • Gain support of professional organizations, code development organizations, or other relevant groups.