Southern Maryland Business Office Damaged by Mineral, VA Earthquake — Employees Unable to Call Home

by Nindo Mom on August 23, 2011

I was working for a Calvert County, MD employer today when we felt the tremors from the Mineral, VA earthquake. It was at 1:55 p.m.

My desk is on the second floor of a warehouse-like building. My fellow employees and I have never believed the building to be particularly well-build–and today confirmed that suspicion.

The tremors came in what seemed to be two batches of about 15 seconds each. At first, everyone just looked around in confusion, with a couple of people wondering out loud what the shaking could be. (Most of us here in Southern Maryland have never experienced an earthquake, so what would have seemed obvious to anyone on the West Coast left us in a state of semi-denial. We never have earthquakes here in Maryland, so this must be something else…) But then the second batch of tremors hit, and employees starting running for the stairwell as parts of the ceiling started raining down on us–both the tiles and their supports. (Our ceiling is a drop-type ceiling made of standard fiberglass-like material like the stuff they have at Lowes and Home Depot, and the supports are made of metal.)

I and many of my coworkers ran down the front stairwell and gathered in groups outside as though we were having a fire drill and not a real emergency. (I’ve worked for this company for more than a year, and we’ve had one fire drill during that time.) Many of the female employees had their purses with them–a fact that made me somewhat jealous, considering my purse was where I kept all my credit cards. But considering I had been seriously afraid the roof was going to completely cave in or the floor collapse, my purse simply hadn’t been a priority.

After standing around in the parking lot for about 15 minutes, I got into my car to move it farther away from the building. It was then that I heard on the radio (station WTOP) that the earthquake had originated around Mineral, VA, and was about a 5.8 on the Richter scale.

I had my cell phone in my pocket, so tried (unsuccessfully) to call home. I tried for 45 minutes. I tried calling three cell phones and one house phone. Telephone calls were simply not going through. This experience has left me seriously wondering what the solution is to communicating with my family during an emergency. This was definitely an emergency, and I could not get through–and it was a truly horrible feeling.

At about 2:20 p.m., my coworkers and I were told to come inside. I was shocked, considering the lack of structural soundness I had witnessed in our building, and considering there was a good possibility of aftershocks. I was still shaken from having had to evacuate myself from a building that was still shaking and falling down around me.

I procrastinated in re-entering the building–at least until I was able to reach someone at my house and confirm no one had been hurt. I then went inside the building and got my purse–and my two prized Starbucks mugs that I had brought to work that day and took them out to my car. (Hey, what the heck. I was already inside, right?)

When I came back inside once again, I procrastinated in going upstairs for a few more minutes by talking to the receptionist on the first floor. (I was still totally freaked about going back upstairs.) When I did go back upstairs, it was just in time to find out that we had permission to go home for the day. Thank God.

On the drive home, radio station WTOP reported that no damage had occurred to the nearby Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plants. (Thank God, again.) And the bridge back over to Charles County had no obvious problems. I did learn, however, that the new Goodwill store in Charles County would be closed for the remainder of the day–which is the smart thing to do, from my perspective, to avoid anyone–employees and customers, alike–from getting injuring in the store if aftershocks came our way.

A nerve-wracking day, to be sure.

Looking back at the events of today, I’m seriously considering getting an extended range 2-way radio like the 2-way radios on Amazon. I work less than 30 miles from home, and these 2-way radios operate over a variety of distances and vary accordingly in price. (Amazon even carries a 2-way radio with a 35-mile range for what seems to be a really low price. I assume this range might not be reached in areas with a lot of signal interference, but I’m going to look into it.)

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