Fort Lee Shakes, Rattles, Keeps Rolling
August 25, 2011
FORT LEE, Va. (August 25, 20110 --Just before 2 p.m. Tuesday, Fort Lee personnel found themselves on shaky ground as a 5.8 magnitude earthquake rumbled in Mineral, a small town located in Louisa County about 60 miles northwest of here.
Post workers evacuated their buildings, many wondering what had happened and others knowing exactly what had occurred but not absolutely sure of the appropriate response.
Norma Hernandez, the Family Support Readiness Assistant for the 530th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, was on the phone when the ground began to tremble.
"Both of us asked if the other felt and heard the commotion," Hernandez said. "I ran out of my office and into the hallway and didn't see anyone else. I began to think we'd imagined it."
Jake O'Donnell, a lifeguard at the Battle Drive Pool, had just climbed off the lifeguard stand and thought the chair was falling. Then the fence began to rattle.
"Everyone immediately grabbed their phones to check for information," he said. "We all looked at Facebook and realized it was happening all over."
U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Lee media relations officer Stephen Baker used social media to provide information and community updates, and give family members of Soldiers in training some peace of mind while waiting to hear from their loved ones.
"We were relieved to have this tool for communicating important information directly to the people who needed and wanted it most during the earthquake," Baker said.
Minimal structural damage was sustained on the installation. Floor and wall cracks had appeared in several buildings and the Army Logistics University sustained damage to a doorway. The Petroleum and Water Department counted more than twenty cracks in its cinder block walls, many of them spanning the height of the wall.
"The building shook heavily during the earthquake," said Robert Bowen, PWD operations officer. "It was felt strongly on this side of the installation.
At the ALU, the quake also caused floor tiles to separate along the Basic Officer Leadership Course corridor.
Staff Duty Watch Officer Bill Lawson described the effects of the event at the four-story building as frightening.
"It was very loud and nerve-wracking here," he said.
Fort Lee Fire and Emergency Services and the Department of Public Works sprang into action, assessing damages and ruling out natural gas leaks.
"Fort Lee Crisis Management leaders reported to the Emergency Operations Center/Installation Operations Center in a timely fashion," said Thomas Nelson, an IOC operations specialist. "It's all due to the training we've conducted as part of the installation's all-hazard response exercise program."
Less than 30 minutes after the shake-up, the Fort Lee emergency notification system sounded an all clear and most organizations were back to work.
"A mass warning and notification system is a top priority for the installation's emergency management program," said Brendan Bowman, Plans and Operations specialist. "In a no-notice incident like an earthquake, MWN cannot be executed until immediately following the incident."
The all-clear many people heard related to severe weather conditions and the IOC is working to expand their tools and technology.
"We've identified the need to be responsive to all hazards," said Alexia Fields, a Plans and Operations specialist at the IOC. "Funding has been acquired to update and further integrate the Big Voice, Siren Towers, Communicator NXT and other mass warning notifications tools here that notify the public in case of emergencies. Our goal is to ensure that the notification system is responsive and timely in its notifications to the Fort Lee community."
Tuesday's earthquake was the strongest here since 1897, according to the U.S. Geological Survey website.
"Although earthquakes are rare in Virginia, the experience should serve as a reminder to everyone about the importance of emergency preparedness," said Claude McRae, Plans and Operations Division chief.
"Individuals, building managers and leaders should review their localized emergency response plans and exercise them on a regular basis. An excellent response plan is useless unless it is practiced."
Fort Lee's next opportunity to shine in a crisis situation may come sooner than later, with Hurricane Irene dancing a destructive jig off the Atlantic Seaboard. See page 14 in this weeks Traveller for more information.
Chances of another trembler in the foreseeable future are unlikely although, the U.S.G.S. is not ruling out the possibility of aftershocks.
If you have an emergency, always call 911. If you suspect that your emergency does not warrant a 911 call (e.g. lost power, fallen tree other issues that are not life threatening or a security or law enforcement issue.) Call the DPW control center at (804) 734-3627 or Housing at 733-1558, option No. 3. As always, if you are unsure, call the IOC at 734-1584. A watch officer is on duty at all times. Security related matters should be reported to the Provost Marshal Office at 734-7400. If you smell gas, always dial 911 first.