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Vol. LXIII, No. 18
September 2, 2011

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Rare Earthquake Rattles Bethesda Campus, Aug. 23

Dr. Thomas A. LaVeis
Employees gather outside Bldg. 31A after the region’s most noticeable earthquake in memory shook campus Aug. 23.

It is so not Bethesda to host an earthquake, but shortly before 2 p.m. on Aug. 23, employees experienced a rare temblor that emptied buildings for about an hour as engineers assured that structures were safe to re-enter after the 5.8-magnitude event.

Fortunately, it was a beautiful day and NIH’ers milled and mingled outdoors while inspectors roamed their buildings. Many checked cell phones, which, in some cases, were inoperable; some people took laptops out to picnic tables and continued to work. But almost every conversation was about some aspect of the quake: file cabinets shook, hearts raced during the 30-second event, some wondered if it was the subway, or a terrorist attack.

According to the Office of Research Services, quake-related incidents were minor: a small buckle in Bldg. 31B was an expansion crack and meant the building was acting as designed and is fine; there was a brief power outage in the ACRF, Bldg. 10; a water line broke between Bldgs. 32 and 18 (near NLM); and there were some drywall and flooring cracks, which the Office of Research Facilities was addressing.

Employees were permitted to go home early and the lanes out of campus were temporarily packed with cars. But only a day later, the quake took second place to anticipation of nature’s next challenge—the arrival of Hurricane Irene. NIHRecord Icon

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