Safeguarding Schools

“I am the guardian of 1,000 children in a fifty-year old, two-story brick school that has not, unfortunately, been adequately maintained. Ten years ago, a distant, moderate earthquake produced a crack in my classroom’s wall so large that my students and I could see the garden outside. Since then, I have known what would happen to my school—and my children—in a large earthquake, unless we prepare.”

Sanu Kumari Nepal, Director, Kanya Mandin Secondary School

Kathmandu, Nepal

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Doesn't every child deserve a safe school? When schools are closed due to earthquake damage, education is put on hold and community life is disrupted. Repair and construction of school buildings are particularly difficult and expensive after an earthquake, when government resources are strained. Most important, earthquake-threatened communities need earthquake-resistant schools to protect their teachers and children.



Yet so-called “modern” schools in developing countries are often highly vulnerable to earthquakes. The town of Spitak, Armenia, lost a generation of its children in the 1988 earthquake, when recently constructed school buildings collapsed. In earthquakes that struck the Kurile Islands in 1994, Sakhalin in 1995, and Venezuela in 1997, more modern school buildings collapsed than did older, traditionally built structures. Because the Venezuelan earthquake occurred while school was in session, most of the fatalities were children. In the October 2005 Pakistan earthquake, 20,000 children died and an equal number were seriously injured because of the collapse of schools. In the May 2008 Sichuan, China earthquake, another 20,000 children died from schools collapsing.


Programs that address school safety can be particularly effective. School earthquake safety programs reach teachers, who will pass on their knowledge to future generations of students. Students inform their parents, who in turn can apply their new knowledge to improve safety in their home and workplace. School design and construction are easier to regulate than the design and construction of other types of structures, because schools are governmental responsibilities. Proposals to make schools earthquake safe are politically attractive and therefore more likely to be funded. Finally, programs aimed at schools are cost effective, because school-age children comprise a significant percentage of their country’s current population. 

“We try to give our students a good academic foundation, but we also need to worry about their safety. Now, we are training them on what to do during an earthquake, so that we will be prepared.”

Milton Izquierdo, Director, Escuela Municipal "Eugenio Espejo"

Quito, Ecuador

“In the 1988 Nepal earthquake, the destruction of 14,000 classrooms was significant, but more so was the fact that 300,000 children couldn’t go to school for years afterwards. When an earthquake destroys schools, it takes away the children’s future—and with it, the future of the country itself.”

Madhab Mathema, Former Senior Human Settlements Advisor

United Nations Center for Human Settlements (HABITAT)

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GeoHazards International

687 Bay Road, Menlo Park,

California 94025, USA

(650) 614-9050

We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization



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