Safeguarding the Campus Community During a Natural Disaster

A strong earthquake that originated about 40 miles northwest of Richmond, Va., at 1:51 p.m. on Tuesday, August 23 sent tremors measuring a magnitude of 5.8 from New York to North Carolina. It was the strongest earthquake to hit the East Coast since 1944, and although no major damage or injuries were reported, the incident caused a considerable amount of apprehension among a regional population of Americans who, unlike their counterparts on the West Coast, are unaccustomed to the sensation of the earth moving beneath their feet.

Calm and order was quickly restored on the Gallaudet campus following the initial shock caused by close to a minute of shaking that accompanied the earthquake. The Department of Public Safety took prompt action to safeguard the campus community, evacuating buildings and directing faculty, staff, teachers, and students to Hotchkiss Field, and the University kept the community informed of the situation through regular and frequent updates by campus email, the Gallaudet ALERT System, and postings on the University’s home page.

While the community was gathered on the football field, campus officials inspected all structures and found evidence of minor damage to several buildings. People were asked to use caution and to adhere to the warnings designated by the yellow tape and safety cones at the damaged areas.

To ensure the safety of the campus community, President Hurwitz closed the University for the remainder of the day to all non-essential staff and faculty and non-residential students. A message was sent out later reporting that MSSD and University residence halls had been inspected by structural engineers and determined safe for students to re-enter, and the cafeterias at both schools remained open for extended hours. For students needing additional support, the Mental Health Center provided walk-in services.

Later on Tuesday, a message was posted stating that the University had returned to normal operations. A list was provided of important steps to follow in the event of future earthquakes:

  • If indoors, seek refuge in a doorway or under a desk or table. Stay away from glass windows, shelves, and heavy equipment. Exit the building only after the shaking has stopped.
  • If outdoors, move quickly away from buildings, utility poles, and other structures. Always avoid power or utility lines.
  • If in an automobile, stop in the safest place available, preferably in an open area away from power lines and trees. Stop as quickly as safety permits, but stay in the vehicle for the shelter it offers.
  • After the initial shock, evaluate the situation and if emergency help is necessary, contact DPS at 202-651-5555 (Voice/Videophone), 202-651-5444 TTY, or page: Protect yourself at all times and be prepared for aftershocks immediately afterwards.
  • Assist people, especially those with disabilities, in evacuating the building.
  • Once outside, move to a clear area away from buildings, utility poles, or other structures.

Read more about Gallaudet’s communication in response to the earthquake.

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