Seaside School District superintendent Douglas C. Dougherty and 11 Seaside High School Associated Student Body leaders took to Oregon state representatives to seek support for a tsunami-safe school.
They testified during the House Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness in Salem on February 23.
“The experience was unbelievable,” said student Kyna Lin. “I didn’t think I would ever present in front of a committee. Our only purpose is to spread awareness and let them know that we are doing this project and we really care about it.”
In his testimony, Dougherty emphasized relocating the students out of the tsunami inundation zone, allowing them “a better chance of surviving the inevitable.” He said the four aging schools in the district are in “the most sensitive and vulnerable areas of the Oregon coast” and spoke about taking sensible steps to prepare for a Cascadia event and remain resilient after it occurs.
“Our students’ physical safety cannot be guaranteed without each community’s partnership and support.”
Students gave a “Don’t Catch This Wave” presentation on the Cascadia subduction zone, disaster preparation, the 1.6-mile walk from the high school to the tsunami safe zone, and the likely effects of a natural disaster on Seaside bridges and schools.
“Presenting to the Oregon legislature is definitely a big step in our project,” student Nathanael Ward said.
The students have also presented to the Seaside City Council and high schools throughout the state. Their efforts have received ample media attention.
“The project has gotten so much bigger than we intended it to, and that’s amazing,” said student Kara Ipson.
The group hopes to convey that Seaside High School, Broadway Middle School and Gearhart Elementary School are at-risk and should be relocated out of the tsunami inundation zone to save thousands of lives.
Associated Student Body officers made it a goal to raise awareness about the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami after reading the New Yorker article “The Really Big One” and watching the Oregon Public Broadcasting special “Unprepared.”
In response to their interest, Dougherty began meeting and having in-depth discussions with the students.
“Before this project, we all knew stuff about the tsunami, but it was all kind of sugarcoated. It wasn’t hard facts,” Ipson said, crediting Dougherty for telling them “straight up” about tsunami risks. “We were talking about how we probably won’t make it out of the building, and things like that really open your eyes.”
The group is concerned about how the future Cascadia subduction zone fault break, projected to cause an 8.7 to 9.2-magnitude earthquake, will impact Seaside students’ safety.
Lin said she was “alarmed” to learn the realities of the overdue earthquake and tsunami. “It makes me want to make a difference.”
Ward said he is worried about not being able to help people in the event of a tsunami.
“It’s become much more personal for all of us,” he said. “We’ve been preparing for school but now we’re thinking about, what happens if I’m at home with my family? We need to have a drill too.”
Dougherty commissioned the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries to set inundation zone lines with the legislature, resulting in a study that may change the zone line from 38 feet to 70 feet in elevation.
In 2013, the Seaside school district sponsored a $128.8 million bond measure to relocate the schools. Voters defeated the measure.
Dougherty is working to place a new school relocation bond on the November 2016 ballot. Now finalizing costs, the district will soon poll the bond locally.
“We have cut significantly back from the previous bond,” he said. “Once it’s been polled and it looks like it would have a good chance of succeeding, that’s when things happen pretty quickly.”
Dougherty said that interest in relocation has increased and they will do “everything we can” to make the bond attractive for voters.
“The problem is we have been trying for a long, long time to get federal and state assistance,” he said. “After all the press we’ve received, we’re still not getting anyone who is stepping up and saying they will help us. Our community needs to have people say, ‘we’re going to help you offset the cost of this.’”
In the meantime, the students hope to raise relocation funds through donations, which are accepted on the Seaside School District website. So far, they have raised more than $3,000. The students also sent letters to Seaside High alumni and reached out beyond the community to Fortune 500 companies, politicians and Hollywood celebrities. Several companies have already written back.
“Hearing the students pick up that mantle is huge,” Dougherty said. “I think the students’ efforts are so commendable, to say ‘We will help you.’ I just truly appreciate that.”
The students will have an informational booth at the Seaside Dash to Safety 5K on April 30. They have also made T-shirts for their project and are creating a viral video to educate people about the Cascadia event.
When most of the group’s students graduate in June, juniors like Ipson will continue their goal of raising awareness and funds.
“If I actually do survive this event, I don’t want to think, if only this bond had passed, all these lives would have been saved,” Lin said. “I don’t want that regret. That’s the number-one thing I’m most afraid of.”