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Preparing for the “Big One”

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ALBANY, Ore. — Geologists say more than 1,000 school buildings in Oregon are at risk of a collapse during a major earthquake. Central Elementary School in Albany is one of them. But thanks to a $1.5 million makeover, the school is a lot safer now.

Students participated in an earthquake drill. Many of them have never experienced a real earthquake, but marine geologist Dr. Chris Goldfinger says there’s a good chance they will in their lifetime.

“We have a 35 to 40 percent chance of having a quake in the next 50 years. So we can have it in the next 5 minutes or 100 years from now,” said Goldfinger.

He says we’re for a quake and tsunami like the one in Japan two years ago. When it strikes, the Office of Oregon Emergency Management wants to make sure students are safe.

“They designated $30 million for retrofitting schools and first responder buildings. It’s meant for a series of projects. So this is just one of eight existing school projects that is ongoing right now,” said Marty Plotner.

You can’t see the changes, but crews tore all the walls down and added plywood to the wood frame walls and eight inch steel columns that go from the foundation to the roof.

Project director David McKay says, “It creates shear strength so the building won’t be like a house of cards. It will rack back and forth in a seismic event but it will be able to stand strong.”

Also, the once wooden fire escape is now made out of steel. The upgrades are getting an “A” from Dr. Goldfinger, who experienced the quake and tsunami in Japan.

“I’m feeling pretty good about it. Hopefully we can get more retrofits before [a quake] happens,” he said.

Students are also giving it a thumbs up.

“It feels a lot safer now, and it’s a lot nicer,” said Emilia Watts.

Students went home with emergency starter kits that they can fill with essentials like a flashlight, first aid kit and space blanket.

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