There’s nothing like a 5.8 earthquake, in an area that doesn’t often have that sort of event, to focus your attention.
At the time, I was talking on the phone with a federal union official when she said, “The building is moving, I think we’re having an earthquake.” Right at that moment I felt it too. We all did. Being an East Coast type I have never felt the earth move (that way), but I knew right away what it was. I wasn’t the first to leave our building, but I definitely wasn’t the last either. Some of our reporters, and those of our big sister station (WTOP) which is upstairs, stayed at their posts. Most of us were back at work within five minutes.
Reporters and editors were busy checking with the police, transit officials and, of course, federal agencies. We learned about the cracks in the Washington Monument, that the Pentagon and Capitol were evacuated, and of damage to the National Cathedral, which is a block and a half away from our offices here in Northwest D.C. Buses were packed as many early-release feds decided they did not want to be underground on Metro in case of an aftershock.
Cell phones didn’t work for awhile. Land lines and e-mail did.
Most people in our office worked out their shifts and many stayed late. Fine, up to a point!
Always thinking outside the box, I volunteered to leave early and monitor traffic. I picked up some wine in case I had to save, treat or shelter refugees in the neighborhood. I’m like the Cabinet officer who doesn’t attend the State of the Union address. Like, who’s going to run things if there is a problem. I accept that responsibility.
A friend, a retired engineer with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, checked with a colleague about the status of nuclear power plants in nearby Maryland and Virginia. One is only a few miles from the epicenter of the quake. And so it went all day.
Federal offices from New York City, Boston and along the Canadian border to Charleston, S.C., were impacted to some degree. We got the most attention because we’re the closest big city (except for Richmond, Va.,) to the center of the quake. And we’ve got the most feds too.
U.S. Geological Survey employee/experts were all over radio and TV. The ones I saw did an excellent job explaining, in layman’s terms, what happened. They were followed by National Weather Service personnel explaining about the approaching hurricane.
About 4 hours after we felt the first (of three) quakes, this message arrived by e-mail from S.F. He said:
“My understanding is that the problems caused by the natural event were dwarfed by the man-made problems caused by releasing Fed employees all at the same time. Seems like a metaphor for Washington lately.” Hmmm. Come to think of it most of the elected VIPs are out of town! This may be why things went as smoothly as they did.
Imagine what it would have been like had 500 camera-crazed, microphone obsessed been available for comment and, worse yet, advice? Yep. We definitely dodged a bullet.