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Are Alaska's Schools Safe for the Next Big Earthquake?

By Corey Allen-Young, Education Reporter, cyoung@ktuu.com
Published On: Mar 27 2014 08:00:00 PM AKDT

The force of the '64 earthquake split one Anchorage elementary school building in half. We take a closer look at current buildings. 

ANCHORAGE -

Preparing for the next big earthquake is routine for Alaska schools.

The drills are top priorities for districts from Fairbanks to the Mat-Su to Kodiak.

"All of our schools are set up as shelters. We’ve spent money to make sure that we have emergency generators," said Stewart McDonald, who is the superintendent of the Kodiak Island Borough School District. 

In Sitka, 635 miles away from Kodiak, earthquake and tsunami readiness is part of the overall emergency plan in Mt. Edgecumbe.

Just last year, a sizeable earthquake shook the town. 

"Those kind of things make you realize that it's important to be prepared and that's why we take our planning very serious," said Randy Hawk, who is the superintendent at Mt. Edgecumbe. 

In Anchorage, the school in Government Hill was destroyed, split in half.

Moving ahead 50 years later, the Anchorage School District says there have been improvements.

"Although no building can survive against every known earthquake threat, you can rely on Anchorage School District facilities to be among the most survivable in the entire community," said Mike Abbott, chief operating officer of support services for ASD. 

"Any building built more than 40 years ago will need some level of retrofitting,” Abbott said. “Depending on the original design, it might need a little or a lot."

Clark Middle School is a good example; its old building needed to be completely torn down and rebuilt.

Abbott says it was less expensive than retrofitting. The district is currently working on a similar project in Girdwood. School officials have a list of older schools that need work like Airport Heights, Central Middle School, Inlet View, Gladys Wood, Gruening, Turnagain, Mountain View and Rabbit Creek. 

In 1964, schools were closed on Good Friday, but the next time around, we might not be as lucky.