What The Heck Was That!?!?!?

The Great Virginia Earthquake of 2011

So I'm planning to write about Hurricane Irene tonight, when I'm sitting at my desk at work and my chair, the desk, and the whole building do this kind of rolling, wave-like movement for about 5 to 10 seconds with a low rumble passing through.  I was in the Tidewater area of Virginia, near the coast, and had never felt anything like it before.  It took me a few moments of disorientation to realize... earthquake!  I quickly assessed the situation... nothing fell, no screams of pain, the lights were still on...  I was ready to get back to work and get details later.  Then another guy in my office came through saying that we had to evacuate the building.  I felt pretty safe, so I did a sweep of the building to make sure everyone was out.  I had my EDC kit on my belt, but my bigger kit and my emergency gear was all in my Element... which was at the repair shop about 6 miles away.  As we gathered outside, one lady was able to get a hold of a friend at the Norfolk Navy base who told her they had recorded an earthquake, confirming my thoughts.  As everyone milled about, I walked around our brick, one story building doing a damage assessment.  There were no broken windows, and all the brick mortar seams seemed to be intact.  I found my boss and told him of my assessment and recommended that we get back inside and back to work.  He concurred.

I then set about doing a self-assessment and after-action analysis.

The quake was a 5.9 that centered on Mineral, Va., about 100 miles away and was felt from Atlanta to New York.  Pictures from near the epicenter showed grocery shelves with contents dumped off.  Major government buildings and airports shut down and evacuated.  The neighboring city evacuated all their schools - not yet in session around here, so just staff.  I did not panic, but I suffered from a lack of action due to "normalcy bias."  An earthquake was outside of my range of experiences and not something that I ever expected in that area.  Cell and land lines were overwhelmed for at least a half an hour.

When I was a kid, on vacation in Southern Maine, one evening we heard a loud crash and pictures on the mantle shook a bit.  We found out the next day it was an earthquake.  About 6 or 7 years ago, I still worked just north of Richmond, and my wife was a supervisor in that county's 911 center.  I was driving to pick her up when a quake in the same area as today's struck.  I did not feel it in the truck, but my wife was working.  Their center had an elevated floor with all the cabling running under the sub floor.  She said that they heard the rumbling and felt the shaking, but her first thought was that a couple of the "larger" dispatchers were playing around and jumping on the floor.  But then it was deathly silent for a moment before the phones lit up like she had seldom seen before.  It was felt up to about 50 miles away from the center, but no damage anywhere.  My former roommate and I had a dog together, Magnum the Chow-Chow/Basset Hound mix, that we got from the pound on 9/11/01.  He never barked or got excited except when there was a fire in the fireplace or I would "collapse" on the floor.  My roommate kept him after we both got married and right before the quake hit, he got very agitated and herded my roommate's wife to a door jamb.  No kidding!  He was a survivalist dog.  Anyway, that was the extent of my earthquake experience.

That fault, near Mineral, Va. (very close to the North Anna nuclear power station), has been getting about a quake a year since then, and they seem to be getting stronger.

So, what to do for the future?  In my work, we concentrate on the schools and the children, and have plans and practices in place to evacuate or shelter in place as needed, and maintain accountability for students and staff.  We really don't have anything for our offices and support buildings.  I'm due to revise our division crisis plan this year, so I'm going to add a couple of appendices for support buildings and stress accountability during evacuations... not just for earthquakes, but for any other reason that we might need to evacuate.  Whether you are in an earthquake zone or not, I'd encourage you to review your office's plans, and if they don't exist, take the initiative to develop a basic one.

Taking Cover

I'm sure an email will start circulating again from a guy who pushes the "triangle of life" as an earthquake survival technique.  If you get this, please don't forward it, and "reply all" with information to debunk it.  The guy pushing it uses faulty data based on third-world earthquakes and construction standards.  He also is of questionable reliability if not an outright fraud.  The Red Cross and FEMA both suggest the Drop! Cover! Hold On! method where you drop to the ground, get under a table or other furniture, and hold on the the furniture as it moves.  In the US and other developed countries, most earthquake injuries come from falling debris, shelves, and items, not from a pancaking roof collapse.

Hurricane Irene

Irene is currently projected to make landfall as a category 4 hurricane sometime Saturday or Sunday near Wilmington, NC, then move up the coast and hit the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay (where I work) still at hurricane force.  I'll probably end up in the city Emergency Operations Center for the storm, organizing sheltering and evacuation operations.  In the mean time, I need to finalize my preps around the house...

Over the rest of the week, I'll:
  • Fill up one more gas can a day and treat the gas with StarTron (if you are in the Richmond, Va. area, local Home Depots have it on sale for $2.99 a bottle - a huge savings!)
  • Keep our vehicles topped off
  • Secure my patio furniture to the fence
  • Get any random yard stuff secured in the shed
  • Check my camping stove to make sure it is working right
  • Add some bottles of water to both freezers to fill space and provide additional cold time
That's about it, everything else is in good shape and we have plenty of food and water.

I'll touch more on Irene preps as we move through the week.

How Was Your Tuesday?

If you had any damage from today's quake, or are in the path of Irene, please leave us a comment below with your experiences. 


  1. Thanks so much for mentioning the Triangle of Life. How many people may have been hurt listening to that garbage? I love your account of the earthquake. I'll mention it on my Totally Ready facebook page.
    Thanks again.

  2. Thanks for the info. When I heard that the quake was in your area I knew you'd have some solid info for us.


  3. Felt it here in Ohio. Immediately thought of all my friends down there. Seems like everything went well considering the situation. Found it amusing that there are still Huge numbers of people that don't know what to do in an emergency. Complaining about phones not working and the like. When will they learn???


  4. Thanks Steelheart & Robo!

    Robo - I think more and more folks are catching on, but it amazes me every time something happens and folks over or under react.

  5. I am glad to hear that everyone is alright. W get so many out here in the Western Rockies that we pay little attention to one in the 5 magnitude. I am sure it came as a huge surprise to all of you out on the East Coast. It should stand as a reminder that you never know when and what type of an emergency you may run upon but you need to be ready for all types of emergencies. Glad all is well for now out there.

  6. Was at work in Dahlgren, VA. Felt it for about 10 seconds. Navy bases tend to freak out. Got home (Ruther Glen...14 miles from Mineral) to find existing cracks in foundation had gotten wider, and there were at least 2 new ones. Stuff in my office was a little askew, but no major problems. It was an interesting experience.

  7. BVDD - we were talking about that eating dinner tonight, how this BIG DEAL for us is probably a blip on the radar to folks out West. Kind of like a few years back when a freak hurricane zipped across Mexico and then looped back with a small tropical storm hitting Arizona... A freak out situation for them, but an amusing natural phenonama to us.

    Anonymous - Glad nothing major, do you need to patch or repair the cracks? I've lived in Ruther Glen a couple of times in the past. Lake Caroline back in the mid 90s and Lake Landor in 2001.


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