Lessons from Christchurch: 4 key ways Seattle can prepare for earthquake devastation

What Christchurch, New Zealand, learned from its destructive earthquakes, and how Washington state compares.

The magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011 laid waste to much of the city and killed 185 people. Although Seattle is on the opposite side of the world, the age, building stock and building codes of each city are similar — and so are the shallow faults under them. The Christchurch disaster and the ongoing effort to rebuild hold key lessons for Seattle and Washington state:

Retrofitting schools saved lives

New Zealand’s Ministry of Education had replaced or structurally upgraded all school buildings made of unreinforced masonry, the most vulnerable type of construction, by the mid-1990s. The ministry then surveyed all 2,361 public schools for seismic weaknesses between 1998 and 2001, finding that 11 percent needed remedial work. Though some students and staff were injured as they fled buildings in the February 2011 quake, there were no fatalities on school grounds.

In Washington, state law doesn’t mandate seismic evaluations of school buildings. About one in every three students enrolled in Washington’s public schools attends a campus in an earthquake-prone area built before seismic standards were adopted statewide, according to a Seattle Times analysis. While Seattle Public Schools has earmarked $100 million for seismic retrofits since 2010, many poorer districts struggle to raise funds.

Vulnerable buildings were deadly

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The failure of unreinforced-masonry buildings in…

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