While surveying the massive damage to schools following the March 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, Assembly Member Charles Field, a building contractor, concluded that California's public school children deserved to be protected while they are in school from buildings collapsing during an earthquake. He authored a revolutionary law which became known as the "Field Act" and was in place approximately one month after the earthquake. The Field Act has survived over the years and today remains a model earthquake code that the rest of the nation and world looks to when writing codes for the protection of school buildings. In the early years, there was a great difference between the requirements of the Field Act and other local and state building codes. Over the years, these other codes have nearly caught up with the performance and philosophy of the Field Act. It was the Field Act that brought into existence two key elements for the safety of California's school children. These elements are the DSA and continuous inspection by an independent DSA approved inspector.
The Field Act has worked in earthquake after earthquake. There has not been a single collapse of a Field Act compliant school structure in any earthquake. Some schools have been virtually at the epicenter of large devastating earthquakes without receiving significant damage. In the Northridge Earthquake, at only one school, the Kennedy High School Administration Building (a 3 story building) and the gymnasium were so badly damaged, that they needed to be torn down. Several other school buildings were also removed as a result of the Northridge Earthquake due to replacement cost vs. retrofit cost studies. This is as opposed to literally hundreds of non-Field Act structures for commercial uses, government uses and private dwellings that were totally destroyed by the same earthquake.
In the beginning, the Field Act was mostly concerned with preventing unreinforced masonry construction in California's Public Schools and providing for minimal lateral design forces to resist the impact of an earthquake. The Field Act policy has never been to prevent damage, but rather to prevent collapse.
After World War II, there was a recognized need for safe, economical, and fast school facilities. The DSA approved relocatable industry was born out of the rapidly expanding approved relocatable structures for school facilities. DSA approved relocatables have met the intent of the Field Act for long-term use of school facilities. The Field Act is referenced in five California Education Code provisions. Sections 17280-17316 and Sections 39140-39159 apply to relocatable classrooms.