Region ducks and covers during earthquake drill

Fairfax County employees Merni Fitzgerald and Ellen O\'Brien duck under a desk and hold on during an earthquake drill Thursday. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)

FAIRFAX, Va. — There are still visible reminders of the earthquake that hit the Washington region in 2011 including the scaffolding around the damaged Washington Monument.

The Aug. 23 quake was a shock to many Washingtonians who never thought it could happen here. That’s why more than one million people in the region signed up to participate Thursday in The Great Southeast Shake Out, an earthquake preparedness drill.

In Fairfax County, the public address system at the five-story Government Center sounded at 10:17 a.m., with the announcement warning people it was a drill and then reminding them in the event of a real earthquake, they should drop, cover and hold on.

Many people did the wrong thing in 2011, including Deputy County Executive Dave Rohrer, who at the time was the county’s police chief.

He was on the 11th floor of the Massey Building, which houses the police department.

“Many of us did the wrong thing in August 2001, including me” says Rohrer. “The first reaction, is to run outside the building, which is the wrong thing.”

Going outside during a quake can make a person more vulnerable to injury from flying debris and falling objects like trees or glass from buildings.

“There were many folks who were really caught off guard because of the infrequency of earthquakes that do happen here,” says Fairfax County Risk Management Director Wally Simmons, referring to the 2011 quake.

He says Fairfax County’s 10,000 employees have been taught to drop to the floor, cover their heads and hold on to something like a table. Many of them crawled under their cubicle desks for a few minutes as part of the drill.

The 5.8 magnitude earthquake, centered in Mineral, Va., caused more than $200 million dollars in damage to roads and buildings including the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral.

The quake could be felt as far north as New York.

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