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Schools Not Quake-Safe, Group Tells Senate Panel : Emergencies: Task force warns that children’s safety cannot be guaranteed unless preparedness is quickly improved. Report predicts lawsuits against negligent districts.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The safety of schoolchildren cannot be guaranteed in a major earthquake unless educators aggressively step up disaster preparedness, a task force told a state Senate committee Wednesday.

Schools and campus personnel must be better equipped for emergencies to ensure the well-being of students, the Task Force on Education concluded.

Impaneled after the Northridge temblor, the task force of San Fernando Valley activists delivered its biggest punch in the final pages of an 80-page report: the prediction of a tidal wave of lawsuits against negligent school districts should a quake occur during school hours.

“This task force has concluded that in order to save lives throughout our communities, disaster preparedness at all school sites must become a major and immediate priority,” its members declared in a report to the Senate select committee on the Northridge earthquake.

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While outlining recommendations to the fact-finding committee, co-chair Diana Dixon-Davis noted that none of the last 10 major earthquakes in California have struck while children were in school.

“I don’t know how much longer the luck for the state of California will hold. Statistically speaking, we are ripe for having a major earthquake during school hours,” Dixon-Davis said. “We need to quit this gamble while we are ahead--quit not being prepared, quit not being trained.”

Among the problems evident in the Los Angeles Unified School District and elsewhere is the spotty implementation of safety procedures, which are in place on some campuses and not on others.

Many principals simply fail to follow through in adopting disaster plans passed down by higher-ups in the district bureaucracy, the panel found.

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Calling for creation of an oversight agency with the authority to force compliance, Stephanie Carter, a parent activist and task force co-chair, said, “We need somebody to actually come back with some muscle and make the site administrators do it.”

For example, only one-third of Los Angeles Unified School District sites have storage bins on campus to hold vital emergency supplies such as food and water in the event of building collapses.

“We want them districtwide,” said Roger Rasmussen, a school district disaster coordinator and task force member, adding that such inconsistencies could be corrected with more funding.

The cost of supplying the containers to every school would amount to a one-time expenditure of $40 million, he said, urging the panel to support a proposed bond measure.

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The task force also called on lawmakers to pass legislation requiring that loose classroom objects be secured so schoolchildren would not be injured when powerful shock waves rattle classrooms.

The task force addressed small details, such as the need to develop a brace to hold overhead lighting fixtures, and big issues, such as the need to train teachers in first aid and search-and-rescue procedures.

Task force members also sought legislation requiring high school students to take classes in basic first aid techniques. In addition, they asked lawmakers to require teachers to undergo disaster preparedness training to obtain their credentials.

Hearing the recommendations of the education task force, and a separate small-business task force, were state Sens. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), Cathie Wright (R-Simi Valley) and Quentin L. Kopp (I-San Francisco).

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The senators said they will examine the findings to discover ways to shore up earthquake readiness at schools and the about 800 state and local agencies that provide disaster relief.


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