Step 3 - RESEARCH: Page 2


Safety & Environmental Concerns

This page covers:

  • Where to find earthquake building safety data for schools in Portland
  • How to see where schools rank in terms of air quality
  • Where to look to gain knowledge about cell towers near schools, and potential threat of EMFs
  • How to determine the frequency of crime near your schools and your home, including where sexual offenders reside.

One thing every parent wants for their children is a safe school.  As tempting as it is to bury our heads in the sand, researching the safety of a school site is an important step in a parent's peace of mind. Additionally, the more we all are aware of the issues detailed below, and ask the right questions, the more revealing schools will have to become -- and the faster improvements will be made, which will ultimately benefit our entire community.

Earthquake Safety & Prep

A growing number of Portlanders hail from the Golden State to the south, perhaps falsely thinking they’ve escaped the threat of The Big One along the San Andreas Fault.  But locals now realize that Oregon is sitting on its own ticking time bomb of an earthquake with the Cascadia Subduction Zone.  And older buildings here are built under older building codes, which did not have earthquake safety in mind – and nearly all the public schools in Portland fall under these old building codes, which might stand up on a prayer should the big one hit.  Sobering thought. 

An assessment was done about 10 years ago which studied all the public buildings in the state.  It will take some digging, but you should be able to find a PPS school by scanning the Multnomah county report (and FAQs to understand report. Take note under “Tracking Code” if the school is already retrofitted. If not, ask on your tour about plans to retrofit).  Private school data is not publicly available, but administrators should be able to give you the results if any geological assessments have been completed.  And should you want more details about current thinking by geologists, or how prepared (or not!) the city is to handle a major earthquake event, the Portland Monthly has a 2014 article; and The New Yorker set off alarm bells in 2015 - both linked for your reading displeasure…

Air Quality

We were disheartened to find that many schools in the Portland area rank close to the bottom in the nation for healthy air quality (yes, you read that correctly -  Bottom. In. The. Nation.)  And we thought we were escaping the yucky LA smog – ha!  Recent nationwide tests show just how many carcinogenic particles are in the air (and they didn’t even include car exhaust in the study!). Apparently, because Portland is fairly small yet still serves as home to one of the largest industrial sanctions close to downtown, we, the vulnerable humans get to breathe factory emissions almost every day.  This daily intake of toxic air is comparable to cigarettes being the proverbial nail in the coffin – something that’s easily to forget about in the moment, but gravely dangerous in the big picture.

Fortunately, people are starting to wake up to this, but the needed outcry has not reached a critical mass yet.  Please add your voice to the growing crowd of Portlanders aware of this serious health issue. To learn more about air quality and what’s being done locally, check out our links.  And for your own peace of mind (or for a needling nudge toward activism) see how your potential schools fare in the USA Today Smokestack database.

Cell Tower Signals

Cell phones are ubiquitous and a basic necessity for most of us, though there is growing concern about what all these EMF fields are doing to our bodies.  I so hope the fear mongers are wrong about this one, but none of us should be surprised if cell phones turn out to be the cigarette of the 21st century if down the road we see a significant increase in brain cancers possibly due to radiation from all these electronic signals.  Current studies are inconclusive, but enough concern has generated for European countries to campaign against kids using cell phones and to regulate where cell phone towers can legally to perch (ie. not anywhere near schools).

It’s hard to find an exact mapping of cell tower locations, but growing groups in Portland are rallying to NOT allow them in their neighborhoods. shows a map of towers in the Portland area, though all may not be listed due to lax FCC rules.  And while we only expect mobile usage to proliferate, perhaps signal transmitting technology could evolve to become less threatening if the market demands it.  As they say, awareness is the first step…


At this point crime probably sounds like an innocuous safety concern.  While we know we can’t control everything ;-) it’s definitely good to know what the crime stats are at your school’s location – especially as your kid gets older and wants to hang out with friends on the playground after school. PortlandMaps is a great little tool to see what’s happening around any address in Portland (and to see what neighbors paid for their houses…). After you type in the school’s address click on “Crime” and you’ll see a color-coded map – the darker the color red, the more saturated with criminal activity.  What might be particularly of concern is the Sexual Offenders link, which shows the pictures and addresses of nearby registered offenders.

If you’re choosing to live in the city, of course you know up front that sending your kids to an urban school will have its gritty atmosphere.  But knowing what you’re potentially dealing with allows you to instill your kids with the necessary street smarts, which will come in handy their whole lives.  Again, awareness is key…

If you react to the information on this page like we do (after digging around on the links we provide) then you might like a nice stiff drink right now.  Then you can bolster your pragmatic self to make a pros & cons list for all the schools you’re considering.  Again, no school will have it all – but if you find yourself upset with any of the safety data surrounding the school you end up in, perhaps you’ll muster some activist energy to help the cause(s) however you can.

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