First and foremost, don’t pay any attention to me in a crisis. I didn’t follow earthquake protocol here at the palatial Bookbindery offices. Ever since the floor rumbled one Dec. 9, 2003, around 4 p.m. at our old offices down the hall, I’ve contemplated what to do in the event of a repeat.
Back in '03, there was a tremendous gravelly sound reminiscent of the big trucks jouncing down the brick alleyway behind the building. I got up and went to the office’s reception space when a more vigorous version of the ruckus arrived. The floor shuddered. I announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is an earthquake," and headed for the exit.
Which isn’t what you’re supposed to do. Stand in a doorway. Get underneath a desk or heavy piece of furniture and wait for the shuddering to quit. Then get out. Don’t pull a George Costanza, like me yesterday, while “trying to lead the way to safety” (see 1:57).
My office is right next to the Allison-Broad bus shelter, and initially, I mistook the grumbling for a bus slowing to a stop. Then the vibration kept on, growing in intensity, and I felt it in my lower back and feet.
I stood up and declared: "It’s an earthquake! Get out!" Which is dumb. Even dumber, I bounded out the side front door to evacuate even as the shaking continued. A colleague in the ad department had run out of her office sans shoes, and in my effort to lead the way to safety, I bumped into her. I’ve since apologized and feel rather unchivalrous about the entire matter.
Most of the staff rather quietly spilled into the street, where my concern became this: "We have regular accidents at this corner even on good, clear days. What if someone lost control of their car? How big was this? Would there be more?"
Customers and staff from the restaurants down the street stood around blinking in the sun, probably wondering the same thing as the people in the Pleasant’s parking lot. Everybody in this part of the world was calling everybody they knew, and cell service evaporated. Then you start thinking about how Richmond is bracketed by the North Anna nuclear-power plant and another at Surry. And North Anna was built over a fault.
You may think, OK, we got our once-in-a-century shake. And you may be right, or you may already be concerned about the possibility of Irene’s landfall. But you’d be understandably pensive about the shakes, too.
During the past three summers, Central Virginia has experienced seismic shimmies. and each one has been stronger than the last: On July 6, 2009, a quake with its epicenter at Short Pump, scored a 2.3 on the Richter; on July 16, 2010, a quake centered near Gaithersburg, Md., notched a 3.6; then, yesterday, Mineral, Va., rocked to a 5.8.
I tried to reach Martin C. Chapman, research associate professor of geophysics at Virginia Tech, for some insight. His phone is ringing off the hook, though, and I’ve not been able to reach him. Maybe he’ll get around to his emails. See, I’m wondering if the increasing intensity of our summer quakes means something. Or is this the equivalent of me shouting, “It’s an earthquake! Follow me to safety!” Thing is, there are small bumps and grinds occurring in Virginia practically all the time. We barely notice them until, well, we can’t ignore them.
If I hear from Dr. Chapman, I’ll let you know on Friday.
I wrote about some of the earlier history of Richmond region quakes in a 2009 post.
And yesterday, in case you missed it, we laughed a little about the whole thing. That’s the best news of all.