Lack of Calif. School Seismic Safety Enforcement Puts Thousands at Risk

CALIFORNIA — Records show that there are currently at least 20,000 projects at schools across California that were completed without receiving a Field Act certification. Failing to comply with the act, which provides regulations to protect school buildings from seismic-related damage, is potentially putting tens of thousands of students at risk in the state.

The state has discovered as many as 59,000 other construction projects that have yet to be reviewed by the state architect’s office to determine if they are in compliance with the Field Act, California Watch reports. In an internal memo last month, an official with the state architect’s office said it could take up to 14 years to clear the backlog.

In addition, nearly 300 inspectors trained in Field Act-compliance have been cited by the state for deficiencies related to their work, such as filing false reports. However, two-thirds of them were allowed to continue monitoring school construction jobs. These inspectors, who are overseen by engineers from the Division of the State Architect, do not undergo background checks or previous performance screenings by the state; yet districts are required to hire these inspectors to oversee any construction projects. 

If a school district wishes to repair a school that might not withstand an earthquake, it is almost impossible to access funds set aside by the state for urgent seismic repairs. The funding – amounting to $200 million – is not enough to address the state’s inventory of potentially vulnerable school buildings. To cope with the deficiency, the Schwarzenegger administration set a high standard for districts to qualify for assistance. To date, only two schools have accessed the funds.

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