The East Coast Earthquake and Social Media’s Omnipresence
So, I’m sitting here in my living room this afternoon, working on an upcoming rAVe article on Safety Standards when suddenly the entire house starts shaking. The windows rattle, as do the plates in the china cupboard and the frames and decorations on the walls. Having experienced a 3.6 magnitude earthquake here in Maryland last summer, I recognized the rumbling and rattling, so I put down the laptop, grabbed my phone and headed to the nearest doorway. I was joined moments later by one freaked-out West Highland White Terrier who’d been digging around the backyard when the backyard apparently took umbrage!
Once the temblor stopped and the chandelier quit rocking, the next three hours were spent with technology: On the phone, reassuring far-flung family members of my safety and checking on family even closer to the Virginia epicenter; On Facebook, again checking in with family, sharing anecdotes, jokes and links to quake-related quips once finding out everyone was okay; and of course, on Twitter, getting as-it-happens news and updates (and yes, more humor) from tweeps all over.
Now, three hours hence, it seems rather amusing – with folks already posting notes like “I survived the Quake of 2011 and all I got was this lousy status message” – but in the moment, it was anything but. As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, government agencies reacted with an overabundance of caution, evacuating facilities and performing audits to make sure every person was accounted for in secure locations. People working in the Pentagon today had flashbacks to those events of 10 years ago because the shaking of the building felt eerily familiar to them. And, even without the spectre of tragedies past looming over us, the entire event was frightening because this region of the country is simply unused to such events.
I know my West Coast friends are rather blasé about it all. After all, a 5.8 magnitude quake is just another Tuesday for them. For us, however, today’s quake about matched the worst earthquake on record in Virginia – 5.9 in 1897. Our side of the country just doesn’t get quakes this strong and we simply aren’t used to it. Our building codes don’t mandate earthquake readiness standards and we have a lot of old, historic buildings that wouldn’t be in compliance even if new codes were in place. Frankly, we’re more used to hurricanes (like Irene, expected this weekend – yay) and blizzards (like the 50”+ of snow dumped on us in February 2010) than earthquakes.
Fortunately, the omnipresence of technology brings reassurance to us all. Fox News, CNN and other 24 hour news channels carried breaking news and updates throughout the day. Facebook and Twitter shared both personal status updates and gallows humor to lighten spirits in a period that could have been full of anxiety and chaos. Even “old school” technology like SMS texting have helped – That’s the only way my husband, on a secure Federal job site in DC when the quake hit, was able to get through and check on me, letting me know he was okay in the face of jammed landlines and cell lines throughout the area.
In generations past, natural disasters resulted in small communities of neighbors pulling together to give aid and assistance, particularly in the face of uncertainty and fear for the fates of loved ones. Today, our modern technology – particularly social media – allow us to pull together in larger communities and get news and information much faster. At the end of the day, it brings us together and allows us to share in such experiences in a wider community and gain much needed support and stress-busting humor in tough times. Say what you will about the pervasiveness of social media – pro or con. I, for one, am glad we have these technologies. Now, if I could just get this clingy dog off my lap so I can continue writing that article…
Originally appeared on rAVe Now, August 23, 2011.