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Wash. School Invests in Disaster-Fortified Gymnasium

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Ocosta Elementary School in Westport, Wash., has taken emergency evacuation planning to the next level by turning its new gymnasium into an earthquake and tsunami bunker.

According to seismologists, the Pacific Northwest may be due for a major earthquake. They give it a one-in-three chance of happening within the next 50 years, prompting government at both local and federal levels to initiate a planning effort called Project Safe Haven to identify potential shelters along the Washington coast.

The new fortified gymnasium will be North America’s first vertical evacuation shelter, designed to withstand the forces of a major earthquake and tsunami with steel columns, concrete masonry and metal walls. The six-inch steel and concrete roof rises to 53 feet above sea level, while concrete piles extend 55 feet into the ground, stabilizing the structure.

Researchers at the University of Washington expect that the new gymnasium is able to shelter 1,000 students and community members in the event that Ocosta is directly in the path of natural disaster.

Degenkilb engineer Kale Ash told wired.com that the cost to build the school, complete with disaster bunker, was only about ten percent more than a non-fortified elementary school. “That’s a pretty small premium to pay for savings the lives of hundreds of people,” he said.

The construction of the Ocosta vertical evacuation gymnasium has created interest in the surrounding area to seek out other possible disaster solutions. 

Related from AB: Post-Katrina, College Athletic Departments Serve as Disaster Response Specialists

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