East Coast Earthquake: After Action Report - ITS Tactical

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East Coast Earthquake: After Action Report

By Mike Petrucci

I’m sitting at my desk as I feel the floor gently ‘bounce.’ I work on the 11th floor of an office building in downtown Washington DC. Being at the top of the building and next to a small bridge, it’s not uncommon to feel small ‘shutters’ of movement as a large truck passes by.

Was this a truck? An earthquake? An explosion?  The bounce subsided for a few moments as my coworkers and I stood and stared blankly at each other.

I typed to a friend on Skype:

“i think were having an earthquake”

Just as we were trying to figure out what it was that we felt, much larger vibrations were now starting to hit, and hard. The ceiling tiles began to shake and it sounded as if loose nuts and bolts were being dropped on top of them. I turned to my right and through the conference room window I saw the building next to ours shaking. The glass made sounds like it was going to buckle under stress.

Then all of a sudden, everything was still. The low rumble was gone. The building once again completely stable. Unsure of what happened and not wanting to stick around to find out, my coworkers and I evacuated the office to regroup on the streets outside.

One more quick message on Skype:

“gotta go”

All I had to do was zip up my bag and head for the stairs. That’s it. Because I try to pack for every situation, there was no scrambling to assemble things. I left my computer behind, with every application still running. It would have just weighed me down and my data is already saved in multiple places (Evernote, Dropbox, etc.).

Freedom Plaza, Washington DC; taken by Jeffrey Levy.

Everyone on the street immediately tried calling loved ones but the voice network for our cell phones were down. I immediately sent my wife a text which seemed to work and then turned to Twitter. It turns out it wasn’t just DC, but almost the entire East Coast felt it. This was a real earthquake  (5.8) and knowing the facts afterwards, it was the largest in this area since 1897.

My neck of the woods was relatively untouched but closer to the epicenter there were some buildings affected and chimneys knocked down. Actually, a picture frame at my house fell but that’s it.


Because I don’t live or travel in an earthquake prone location, I only carry and know the very basics when it comes to preparing for one. With that said, I have designed my most basic ‘everyday carry’ to cover a large variety of situations.

Below is a list sharing some of the items I had with me ready to go. This is also what I carry on a daily basis.

  • Sturdy bag
    • Usually my GORUCK GR1 but I had the  GR2 at the time.
  • First Aid kit
    • Basic ‘boo boo’ stuff with band-aids and what not.
  • ETA Kit  
    • If there were more damage and lives at stake, a true blow out kit would be needed.
  • Survival Kit
    • Pocket sized and includes everything I need to get home if I have to walk the 10 miles.
  • Pocket knife
  • Multi tool
    • Pliers can be extremely useful, especially in an urban environment.
  • Flashlight
    • What if I were trapped under rubble or even on the Metro (subway) when the earthquake hit?
  • Water
    • In my bag you’ll almost always find at least a one liter bottle of water.
  • Food
    • Just a few snacks.
  • Backup cell phone battery charger
    • Just because voice networks were down, texting and tweeting runs the battery down fast.
  • Sturdy shoes/boots
    • Had there been significant damage, boots would offer great protection.

Don’t use my list as a rule but as something to give you ideas on. Work on developing an EDC that works specifically for you.

Also, our West Coast readers will most certainly laugh at us for making so much noise about a quake under 6.0 but this was my, and many others first earthquake. Being 11 stories up and feeling everything shifting and groaning was an intense experience. I’m just glad that’s all it was.

Further Reading

Here are some past articles that you should really take the time to revisit:

Please feel free to leave a comment with ideas on how to prepare so we can help inform as many people as possible about this. What’s in your ‘go bag’ or what do you carry every day in case something like this happens?

– Thanks Josh for asking about a debrief on this.

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  • Uri

    Mike, this is a great write up with a good example of basic bug-out bag and survival contents.

  • Good advice. People laugh at me for carrying around my TAD Pack with stuff in it (the same as yours almost to a T plus a bit more catered to my needs and area) but when stuff happens….and they’re with me they thank me for having what I have.

  • Great article, Mike! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Whammy!
  • Jackel

    Good article. I live in earthquake country and have experienced hundreds of earthquakes including a 7.2 where we literally saw full sized suv’s bouncing so hard that their tires were coming off of the ground. One thing that I noticed that happened a lot immediately after the east coast quake was people pouring out of buildings and hitting the street. That can be very dangerous. If your quake was a bit harder there would have been a lot of plate glass coming down, which can be deadly. The safest thing to do is get next to, not under a sturdy desk, couch, table, etc. Get right next to it, make yourself as small as possible and wait for the quake to finish. If the building collapses, the sturdy furniture will make small triangular voids between it and the floor, you will find yourself in that void. Getting outside is great, if you can do so and at the same time stay well away from all windows and potentially falling debris. During our 7.2 quake the only death was a man that ran outside and was crushed by falling debris. Being prepared for the chaos that follows is imperative.

  • Smith

    Great article, mike. A few items I would like to add, these are just my opinions:

    1. Taking for granted that infrastructure was generally in working order, I think rather than loitering about like I did, it would have been better to begin your exodus immediately. There is always value in taking in your surroundings, however once you establish that there is a means to escape, then make haste. I think that had I moved quicker, I could have saved myself several wearisome hours if I had acted more swiftly.

    2. Unless you made a call immediately following the quake, most people did not have service for nearly an hour. That said, as you referenced, text messages and emails seemed to be getting through (though I am not sure if the texts were delivered in a timely manner). My wife and I are building a “no communication plan” in the event the phones do not come back up in just an hour.

    3. Finally, plan for the unexpected. I do not work in DC, I happened to be their for a few days of training, normally I work outside the city and have developed my plans around this fact. I am amending my plans to include the possibility that I could be somewhere I do not normally frequent.

  • MCGunny2004

    I liked how you mentioned using Dropbox and Evernote for data. Many forget in certain situations data can be extremely important to carry on us since most of our lives are moving towards digital means. An idea would be to carry a data drive the is encrypted with important files on it in your BOB. There are some great (indestructible) thumb drives now. I was a little closer to the quake and was in the middle of building prevention kits for Irene when it hit, which made me think what else to add to the kit. Great article!

    • Thanks for the kind words. I agree on having an encrypted and indestructible flash drive but I currently don’t have one I trust at the moment. Dropbox and Evernote at least gives me access over many platforms/OS’s if I really have to have access (granted networks are still online).

  • papa_tango

    Thanks for sharing, I too also have the strange looks from co-workers because of the pack I carry, the stash of first kit behind my file cabinet, and my flash light on the file cabinet. But oddly enough whenever some one needs a knife to open a box I am the go to guy.

    • I get the same strange looks you do but in an emergency situation, it was surprising to see how many people turned to me and asked what to do. People take notice more than you think although I just hope they start making their own kits and plans now.

  • Bob

    Great recount. I was in the Pentagon City Metro station when the quake hit. I’m infinitely thankful I carry my EDC bag with me to the office every day. Had I been at my desk, I have a similar bag of goodies ready to walk out the door with me. Glad you made it through everything okay.



    • Pentagon City? Glad to hear you’re safe. I took the Metro home and it wasn’t too bad, just slow. Most people don’t think you need the items we carry every day on hand but then again, most didn’t think we’d have an earthquake. Good on you brother.

  • D. Hide

    Hello Mike,

    Your before, during, and after quake activities were eerily similar to mine. I live a few miles closer to the epicenter, but not enough to make a significant difference. I was also on a messenger system talking to someone when it occurred, and everybody likely stepped outside afterward. I have a bag ready to go, like many who follow this website. I examined possible safe locations outside immediately in case that was just the aftershock (thank goodness it wasn’t).

    Because bigger earthquakes here are so rare, it is not uncommon to have even relatively prepared people like us be a little slow to respond. However, we were quicker than those who were still wondering what happened 20 minutes later. It’s an interesting thing to see.

    Thanks for the AAR. How about one on Irene? (granted, it was fairly weak – I even had my power all the way through)


    • Glad to hear you were prepared D. It looks as if 95% of the people around me were not. I thought about an AAR on Irene but with the GORUCK Ascent right at the tail end of the hurricane, I just didn’t have time to do it justice. I think a good breakdown on items to have in home would be interesting as well. Protection from power loss, flooding, downed trees etc… Thanks for giving me something to think about and glad you are safe!

  • Kevin

    Thanks Mike.. Nice article… BTW, from the view, it appears that we work in the same building.

    Maybe we can compare notes sometimes…

    Take care…

    • Glad you liked the write up Kevin. Are you in the 750 1st street building?

    • Kevin

      777 NC on the other side…

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