EERI Plans: Virginia Earthquake

At 1:51 EDT on Tuesday, August 23rd, a M5.8 earthquake with its epicenter in Northern Virginia shook most of the east coast with people reporting shaking between Georgia and Canada. There were no reported fatalities or serious injuries.

The 5.8 earthquake caused minimal damage but resulted in significant business interruptions from New York City in the north to Richmond, Virginia, in the south. Unreinforced masonry walls, gable walls, and chimney collapses were the most common failures, with some historic buildings losing architectural parapets. Ceiling tile failures and falling furniture in one Virginia school and objects falling from shelves in homes and businesses added to the damage and disruption. The earthquake resulted in the shutdown of the nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station (7 miles from epicenter) which used backup generators to keep spent nuclear fuel cooled and to remove residual heat from the reactor. The earthquake tied up phone and internet connections, disrupted rail lines, and caused extensive traffic delays. A day after the event many public buildings and Washington, D.C., area schools remain closed. The earthquake surprised many and according to news reports, caused widespread confusion between the public and emergency personnel on how to respond.

EERI will use this event to remind earthquake professionals, federal agencies, members of Congress and the public that earthquakes are not just a West Coast problem. The importance of preparedness needs to be underscored.

EERI is organizing a team of East Coast members to document what happened in the event, tentatively focusing on four major theme areas: the response and performance of the nuclear power plant in North Anna, Virginia. The importance of preparedness and the consequences of not knowing what to do, including building closures, evacuations, communications problems, etc.; the effects of ground shaking on buildings and infrastructure, including structural, nonstructural and geotechnical damage; and economic losses, including damage to several important national monuments as well as business and societal interruption costs. If you are interested in participating in this documentation, please contact Marjorie Greene at EERI (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

EERI will establish a virtual clearinghouse at http://www.eqclearinghouse.org/2011-08-23-virginia/ where members and others can post observations on the event. A few members will each take responsibility for one of the theme areas identified. Each team member will summarize observations related to their theme, which will then be compiled in a brief report. This work will be done in coordination with several other partner organizations, including the US Geological Survey, GEER and NIST. The report will be distributed widely, including to Congress and federal agencies in addition to EERI members.