Update: University felt effects of Virginia earthquake

August 23, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Many areas of Penn State experienced shaking that was the apparent effects of a 5.9 magnitude earthquake reported to be centered in Virginia this afternoon. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the epicenter of the earthquake was in Mineral, Va., 92 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. No immediate reports of damage or injuries were reported during the brief wave Tuesday just before 2 p.m., the Associated Press reported.

According to Kevin Furlong, professor of geosciences, the earthquake was a shallow one as is usual on the east coast of the United States. The U.S.G.S. reported the earthquake at a little more than half a mile deep. The shallowness of the earthquake amplifies the surface waves so that the earthquake was felt in this wide area.

Although cell phone service was offline for a short period of time -- delaying PSUTXT messages via SMS -- the PSUTXT messages were received by those who signed up to receive the messages via email. The PSUTXT messages also were posted to the Penn State Facebook page and to the PSUTXT Twitter feed. Those who have not signed up for PSUTXT can go to http://live.psu.edu/psutxt to sign up. Those who are signed up to receive the text messages should update their accounts to also receive the alerts via email, and follow the Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/psutxt online.

Accordng to Ara Bagdasarian, president of e2Campus, the company that hosts the PSUTXT service, almost every school from North Carolina to New York state sent out emergency text messages in response to the quake, accounting for several million messages being sent from e2Campus in the span of two hours.

Occupants of some buildings at University Park evacuated as they felt the shaking, although there was no official evacuation and people have returned to their normal activities. Anyone who notices any damage to University facilities should report it to the Office of Physical Plant on their campus. At University Park, the number to report damage is 814-865-4731.

University Park Airport operations were not disrupted by the tremors. The airport remains open. However, reports are that JFK Airport in New York has been shut down, so flight schedules may be affected.

University Police have deployed officers across the University Park campus to check the condition of buildings. So far, no damage has been found. Structural engineers are also being sent to buildings across campus to visually inspect key infrastructures. Over the course of 2.5 hours, crews visibly inspected the large glass buildings (IST, Katz, HUB, Rec Hall addition, Millennium Sciences and Life Sciences), as well as light poles and exhaust stacks, parking decks, silos at the Ag barns, cell towers and cell equipment, Oswald tower and the water tower behind OPP. They also drove Curtin and Pollock roads looking for damage. No damage has been found. Crews will continue to check other buildings.

Twitter reports and reports from the Associated Press indicate that people from throughout Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., New York and other areas felt the tremors. The New York Times reports tremors were felt throughout New York City office buildings and as far north as Concord, N.H. Details about the quake can be found at the USGS website at http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/usc0005ild.html online.

If there are additional tremors, FEMA instructions call for people to minimize movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place and if indoors, stay there until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe. From FEMA:

If indoors

-- DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.

-- Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.

-- Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.

-- Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, loadbearing doorway.

-- Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.

-- Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.

-- DO NOT use the elevators.

If outdoors

-- Stay there.

-- Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.

-- Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.

If in a moving vehicle

-- Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.

-- Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

If trapped under debris

-- Do not light a match.

-- Do not move about or kick up dust.

-- Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.

-- Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

For more instructions from FEMA, visit http://www.fema.gov/hazard/earthquake/eq_during.shtm online.

Those with concerns on Penn State's University Park campus should contact University Health Services at 814-863-0774 or the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services at 814-863-0395. Those on campuses should contact their appropriate personnel.

  • Ground Motion recorded on seismic station at Penn State, University Park Campus (Deike Bldg)

    IMAGE: Penn State Department of Geosciences
Last Updated August 23, 2011