Communications During East Coast Earthquake

Business Continuity / Incident Management
Abbas Haider Ali ON Aug 24, 2011

I’m based out in Washington DC and have lived on the east coast for a long time and as such have no experience with what an earthquake actually feels like.  That statement was true until yesterday afternoon at about 1:53pm EDT when I felt and heard a rumbling sound that was just a little too intense to be a passing truck.  It took me the first 5 seconds just to clue into what was actually going on.

Immediately after that, I realized that I actually have no idea about what I’m actually supposed to do during an earthquake.  My wife yelled at me to get into a doorway and I yelled back “I think we’re supposed to go to the bathtub.”  For the record, according to FEMA, here is what you’re actually supposed to do.

Working with our clients all over the world, I get to hear about the varying experiences that they’ve had dealing with nature’s display of its powers, at varying scales.  There was minimal damage from the quake itself, but I did get to experience first hand the communication threads that start up following any widespread event.

Before the shaking even fully stopped, my first status update of “Was that an earthquake that I just felt in DC?” was out on Facebook and Twitter (don’t judge me).  It was quickly commented on and retweeted as confirmations started to come in from my friends/followers all across the east coast.  Within 5 minutes, all that I could see on Facebook were references to the earthquake.  Some providing details as they learned them, including images from the USGS website showing the intensity and epicenter of the earthquake.  Others were letting everyone know that they were OK.

In parallel, I texted family members to let them know that we were OK to preempt the inbound calls that would start as soon as the news got out.  I had to use text messaging, because I couldn’t get a call through to anyone.  Lines were all jammed up and continued to be in that state on and off for another 2 hours.

Turns out that they never got my texts. And of course I had no idea that they had not heard from me. Luckily,while they were trying to reach me, my brother had seen the updates on Facebook and let them know that all was well.

What I learned from the experience simply backs up the strategy that I recommend to all of our clients.  Don’t rely on a single, or even a couple of communications channels.  In the event of an emergency, prioritize and use all the channels at your disposal to ensure that the  right message gets out to the people that need it using the mechanism that they are likely to receive it through.  Every channel has its own reach and should be to dessiminate information into the right circles taking advantage of network effects to pass it along as needed.

What was your communication experience during the earthquake?  And yes, for all those on the west coast, we easties are very soft when it comes to the ground shaking beneath our feet.

Abbas.

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