D.C. Earthquake: No Injuries, No Phones, No Holding Back on Twitter

FIRST PERSON | As I sat at work Tuesday putting the final touches on some mapping, my chair began to move slightly. The movement grew into a distinct swaying that lasted approximately 20-30 seconds. Since I live in eastern Kentucky, my first thoughts were of an auto accident involving a coal truck or of a large rock fall from the sheer high-wall our curvy road is cut from.

The rocking was gentle and left as quietly and quickly as it came. After a quick survey of my co-workers, I found out that anyone standing at the time didn’t even feel it. Others who were sitting all felt it, and it was more pronounced on the second floor where my office is located. It wasn’t long that reports of a 5.8 earthquake centered in nearby Virginia came across Twitter, and then the newswire.

There were no reported injuries, but the surge in phone calls affected mobile phones and the 911 service. The frenzy was so bad it prompted the Department of Homeland Security to tweet: “Quake: Tell friends/family you are ok via text, e-mail and social media (@twitter & Facebook.com). Avoid Calls.” That’s right, even the Department of Homeland Security took to Twitter.

According to Alertsite, Twitter’s average response time doubled from 4.17 to 2.16 seconds after the quake. Within 1 minute of the earthquake, there were more than 40,000 earthquake-related tweets coming across Twitter. A Facebook representative told CNNMoney that the term “earthquake” appeared in over 3 million status updates shortly after the temblor.

The explosion of prayers and tweets about the earthquake which left the East Coast largely unaffected led many people to criticize the public over paying so much attention to an event that wasn’t as disastrous as other, similar events. It is obvious that any news is more engaging when we are a part of the story, but people on the West Coast need to realize that this is a very rare event. One could say the prayers were prayers of thanks, reminding us that the earthquake could have been so much worse. In an area that is unprepared for and largely disregards disasters such as earthquakes in their building codes, it wouldn’t have taken much more to cause some real damage.

West Coast earthquakes that don’t cause tremendous damage go unnoticed by the media simply because they are so common. The public by and large couldn’t care less if California fell into the ocean, except for Hollywood of course. With the upcoming presidential election and skyrocketing debt, the news is centered on Washington, D.C., anyway. I just hope the residents of North Carolina didn’t miss the tweet about Hurricane Irene because their feeds were blowing up over the equivalent of a worn out washing machine.

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