Resilient Schools, Safe Children

The threat of a natural disaster presents a unique set of worries for the parents of school-age children. If an earthquake, tornado, flood or windstorm strikes during school hours would their children be safe? Would the teachers and other adults at the school have the needed resources to care for their students until emergency help could arrive? Are the school buildings strong enough to survive the immediate impact of a natural disaster, and resilient enough to provide secure shelter in the aftermath of the storm? A just-released FEMA report sounds the alarm that many of the nation’s fifty million school children are at risk because of aging school buildings, or buildings that do not meet basic resilience standards to withstand a natural disaster.

The FEMA report, “Safer, Stronger, Smarter: A Guide to Improving School Natural Hazard Safety” points out that “ . . . many of our nation’s school buildings are older unreinforced masonry structures that are vulnerable to severe damage and collapse in the next earthquake, or are of lighter frame construction that is vulnerable to other types of natural hazards such as a tornado, hurricane, high winds, or flash flooding.” In fact, as of 2014, according to FEMA, the average public school building was 44 years old. And while some of these schools have undergone major renovation, “the original construction of numerous school buildings predates many of the modern building code requirements protecting occupants from natural hazards such as earthquakes, floods, high winds, and tsunamis.”

In other words, millions of school children are being educated in buildings that are using 20th century construction standards to meet 21st century hazards. And those 21st Century hazards are becoming more of a threat. As the FEMA report unequivocally states, “Over the last several decades, the United States has experienced an escalation in the number of damaging natural hazard events and corresponding costs resulting from that damage.”Given these challenges, the FEMA offers extensive specifics on upgrading school structures to improve safety, and notes the critical importance of roofing systems to protect the integrity of a school building. It warns that a roof that is damaged in a hurricane “will result in significant interior damage due to water leakage” and any roofing system that is “extremely susceptible to wind damage . . . should be mitigated as soon as budget permits.”

To help protect vulnerable school buildings, as well other critical structures in areas threatened by natural disasters, ERA is stepping up its efforts to provide information about resilient roofing systems. Our website,, offers specifics about designing an installing a resilient roof, and the unique characteristics of EPDM that can help to ensure that a roofing system will withstand a natural disaster. These attributes include outstanding weathering characteristics in all climates (UV resistance, and the ability to withstand extreme heat and cold), ease of maintenance and repair, excellent impact resistance, the ability to withstand moderate movement cycles without fatigue and good fire resistance (low combustibility) and basic chemical resistance. We are committed to helping communities build more resilient schools for their children, just as much as we are committed to helping building owners retain the value of their investments by protecting their buildings against the impact of a natural disaster. And we are confident that EPDM products can be an important part of creating our resilient future.

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