Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Felt It

I am on the West Coast this week, and in Los Angeles, today.

As most of you must know by now, a 5.4 earthquake hit the area just before noon. I was on an outdoor escalator near the Citibank Building in downtown Los Angeles. I was headed across the street via a pedestrian overpass toward the hotel I'm staying at, the Westin Bonaventure.

On the escalator the quake felt like a strong jolt, and the escalator snaked a bit, but it was very brief, perhaps three seconds. I didn't know for sure it was a quake until a minute or two later when I was back at the Bonaventure. In the lobby the televisions were on and remarkably the networks had already broken into regular programming to report the quake.

Guests now in the lobby, who were in their rooms at the time of the quake, said there was considerable swaying of the hotel. For my next meeting, I had to walk through the World Trade Center building, which is next to the Bonaventure. There was more a look of concern on those at the WTC. There were small bits of debris which clearly fell from the ceiling of the WTC. I then headed further up the hill and over to where many of the larger office buildings in LA are, office tenants were out of their buildings. These are 40 and 50 story buildings and the look on the faces of secretaries suggested it was more than a jolt on the top floors. They were clearly in a mild state of shock. One passerby was telling his friend that he was sitting in his chair on the 49th floor and he said the swaying and shaking was so bad that he was sure that if he would have tried to stand up he would have been knocked to the floor.

I overheard one girl tell her friend that she had to walk down the stairs from her 47th floor office. It took her about 7 minutes, she said. And she had to take her high heels off, carry them and walk barefoot. She said her calves were sore.

The most disconcerting part of the entire experience was the public address systems in the buildings. While, I was in the lobby of the Bonaventure, instructions were given, but the poor acoustics made it impossible to understand what the instructions were. The same thing occurred when I left the WTC building and entered the Bank of America building, instructions were being given out at the BofA building, but they were impossible to make out.

If there ever was an emergency where people had to be instructed quickly with emergency instructions, these PA systems would never be able to deliver the message to those in the lobbies.

News reports say the potential for a stronger quake to hit exists for a period of 24 hours after the first one. And, of course, there will be aftershocks--kind of like the mortgage crisis.

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