American University evacuated all on- and off-campus buildings for a short period of time following a 5.9 magnitude that rocked the eastern United States Tuesday.
No one on campus was injured in the earthquake and there was no apparent damage to any AU buildings, according to emails from the University.
The earthquake, centered in Mineral, Va., started around 1:51 p.m. and lasted less than a minute.
Academic buildings surrounding the Quad were evacuated almost immediately with alarms and building personnel where necessary, Maralee Csellar of University Communications said. Most students were evacuated from AU’s buildings about 20 minutes after the earthquake hit as 40 Facilities Management staff searched the buildings to make sure they were structurally sound.
At 2:47 p.m., not long after a 2.6 aftershock hit D.C., the University sent an email asking everyone in AU buildings to evacuate for safety purposes. Most buildings were cleared for re-entry at 3:21 p.m. All buildings on main campus and in Tenleytown were deemed safe for re-entry by 4:30 p.m.
Students think quake is stampede, trucks and more
Adam White, a freshman in the School of International Service, was on the 6th floor of Anderson Hall when he felt vibrations under his feet. He didn’t believe it was an earthquake at first and thought it was a stampede of people on the floor below.
“I actually got kind of annoyed about it,” White said. “Then we realized that this was much more serious.”
White is not the only one that didn’t jump to the earthquake conclusion at first. Kent Hiebel, a junior in the School of Public Affairs, was coming out of a meeting in Mary Graydon Center at the time. Hiebel thought the vibrations felt similar to the sensations bass amps make during concerts in the Tavern.
In the Letts-Anderson quad, CAS sophomore Michael Johnson briefly thought a truck was causing the shaking.
“It was like you were sitting in a vibrating chair, like one of those massage chairs,” Johnson said.
Allie Cannington, a sophomore in SPA, and her mother were putting a bookshelf on top of her desk when she and her mother joked that she was glad they weren’t in their home state of California where there might be an earthquake. Less than 30 seconds later, they felt the ground shaking.
“We thought that we were actually going crazy,” Cannington said.
Cannington uses a wheelchair, and she was impressed when a Public Safety officer showed up at her door minutes after the earthquake to make sure she was alright.
“That is major props to AU,” Cannington said. “I was so impressed.”
There was a similar air of disbelief and confusion in the Davenport Coffee Lounge, says, CAS sophomore Georgia Ottoni.
“I think it’s funny how people are embarrassed to say, ‘Did you feel that,’ like they’re insane,” Ottoni said. “It’d look like it only happened to them.”
On the other hand, SPA freshman Lydia Siguidson felt nothing and did not know an earthquake had happened. This isn’t the first time she’s missed out on experiencing an earthquake — she didn’t feel one in her hometown a few years back.
“I’m an earthquake failure,” Siguidson said with a laugh.
Martina Ferrari, a CAS first-year graduate student, wasn’t sure what to do when she first felt the earthquake at her home downtown. After a moment of indecision, she ran out into the street to find all of her neighbors in the same predicament.
“It was my first time in a true earthquake, so I just froze,” Ferrari said.
School of Communication sophomore Tya Scott had a similar reaction as some of her belongings fell off their shelves in her Leonard Hall room on the 6th floor. Like many other students, she went on Facebook after the building stopped shaking.
“I didn’t know what the hell was going on,” Scott said. “I freaked. I was scared.”
University evaluates earthquake procedures
The University is currently reviewing what worked and what didn’t following evacuation and inspection, and changes to procedures will be made if administration officials feel they are necessary, Csellar said.
To make up for the delay between the aftershock and the campus-wide email, the University used the website, Facebook and Twitter to warn students, faculty and staff, Csellar said.
“I want to thank the entire community for your patient and calm response to the evacuations and disruptions in normal activity while we assessed our facilities,” AU President Neil Kerwin wrote in a message to the University community.
Kerwin also reminded AU that University has a preparedness plan, which advises the community to take cover under sturdy objects or stay in wide, open spaces in case of an earthquake.