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.
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.
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
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.