Westport sits on a spit of land at the south end of Grays Harbor, Washington. The town is surrounded by water on three sides making it a prime target when “the big one” hit.
It’s now taken as a given that the question isn’t “if,” but “when” the Cascadia Subduction Zone will trigger a major earthquake and tsunami.
Given that September is Disaster Preparedness Month, we took to the road to check out how Ocasta became the most prepared district on the coast.
Dr. Paula Akerlund is the Superintendent of the Ocasta School District. The just-completed elementary school is the home of the only “vertical evacuation” structure in North America. Voters passed a $13.8 million bond a few years ago.
With the help of structural engineers and architects came plans for the new school that can provide shelter for 2,000 people for as long as two weeks. That’s more than enough to keep students safe. With a population of just over 2,000, it’s even enough to house the entire community. A new school year in the new building begins September 7.
The median household income in Westport, WA averages just over $30,000 a year, well below the state average of $58,000. After two failed attempts at passing a school bond, voters approved a $13.8 million levy to replace the aging elementary school.
The groundbreaking featured school kids using clam guns instead of the ceremonial shovel. The plan is to pay off the bond over 20 years.
Other districts are not moving as quickly as Westport. Seaside, OR schools are also at risk to be affected by an earthquake-triggered tsunami. High school students there are concerned enough to start their own fundraising effort to build a new facility.
Seaside student have taken their concerns to the Oregon Legislature. The Oregon School Board Association says they “listened with enthusiasm, complimenting the students for the work done on this important issue and offering to assist with any needed legislation in the next … session.”