Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake Randomness

When you live in the Mid-Atlantic States you learn to expect floods, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes and blizzards. Earthquakes? Not so much.

We do get them … a noticeable one last year, for example, the first one I knew of in the 26 years I’ve lived here. But today we experienced a magnitude 5.8 in the Washington DC area. The epicenter was 88 miles away, near Mineral, Virginia and the quake was felt from the Carolinas to New York.

When my building first shook, I assumed it was the dumpster truck banging into the loading dock, a regular occurrence, but the shaking continued, mixed with a little lateral left-and-right motion, for at least 45 seconds. Then the alarm sounded and we all evacuated the six-floor tall structure. By the way, my office is on the top floor. As we waited outside, we learned that the vibration truly was an earthquake.

As far as I know, the building was not damaged, although I don’t especially trust that evaluation. Other buildings in the area, including a couple of apartment buildings in the next county, were damaged and have been condemned, at least temporarily. Government buildings, museums and monuments in DC were closed till safety examinations can be done. My office is in Rockville, about twelve miles northwest of Washington.

My most specific memory of the actual quake was me standing in a hallway outside my office trying to mentally process what was going on. Earthquake crossed my mind, but I was still thinking about that garbage hauling truck as well as the mysterious construction project going on in the parking levels, involving cement and inconvenience. My first thoughts were of the possibility that something went terribly wrong with building supports. Then it occurred to me this was a quake and we had to get out. But how? Certainly not the elevator. But were the stairs safe? Probably safer than waiting around to find out if the building would collapse.

And we are five radio stations, disseminators of information between songs, yet the live DJs had to leave too. Music continued, thanks to sophisticated automation equipment, but the DJs on duty were standing around on the sidewalk with the rest of us, clearly bothered that they couldn’t be on a microphone telling listeners what was going on. We have many contingency plans but I wonder what our plan is if we are ever unable to re-enter the building. I’ll ask about that tomorrow.

There were aftershocks but I’m not sure I felt them. I did have the sensation of lateral movement a couple of times … sort of like the feeling you have the first few minutes on land after spending a few hours on a boat. Could have been real, could have been psychological.

I was quite distracted the rest of the day. I hope tomorrow is uneventful.

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