A rumble. Shaking.
What was that? Are they drilling the new Comcast internet line again? Or was it the HVAC system?
The rumbling returns — louder, stronger.
Something is not right.
I think of the air raid drills when I was a kid and my elementary school was near a small airport. I contemplate diving under my desk.
A coworker announces: “They’re feeling it in Bowie, too!”
Before I have a chance to join the dust bunnies under my desk, an editor across the room relays the order from a big boss: “It’s an earthquake! Everybody out of the building!”
I grab my purse and camera bag — always, always grab your stuff in an emergency, I’ve learned — and hustle outside with everyone else.
We stand bewildered for a few moments, blinking in the bright sun, trying to process the fact that we’ve experienced a real earthquake.
I come to my senses and pull out my phone. My first call is not to a loved one — more evidence that journalists are not normal people — but to the fire department’s media hotline.
As I leave my message, I don’t recognize the slight quaver in my voice. I ask if they’ve gotten earthquake reports because, boy, we sure felt one just now in Annapolis.
Next I dial my husband, but repeated calls fail. The phone doesn’t even ring, I just get an error message.
Then I hear photographer Joshua McKerrow saying to someone, “Where am I going? I’m going to where the story is!”
He runs over to one of our marked photo cars and before he pulls out, he asks, “Is anyone coming with me?”
“I am!” I shout, jumping into the car.
I peel off my hoodie — the newsroom is wicked cold, but it’s warm and sunny outside — and fish through my purse and camera bag for a notebook.
Before I have a chance to improvise on the back of an envelope or something, Josh tosses a notebook my way.
And so begins a long and sometimes frantic afternoon and evening covering a most unusual event — a magnitude 5.8 earthquake centered in Virginia that rattled nerves up here in Maryland.
Before the day was through, I did a bunch of “man on the street” interviews, I climbed to the roof of the AL Goodie’s/WRNR Radio building in search of photos, filed copy with my fabulous iPhone and Bluetooth keyboard, managed not to get a parking ticket on my expired meter and got a crash course in earthquake science from three patient scientists.
But now the earthquake is behind us, and journalists have switch gears for the next big science/emergency story: Hurricane Irene.
As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. In this case, that could literally be the truth.
On a related note, PR firm Campfire Communications noticed my efforts on Twitter to solicit earthquake stories and photos from our readers. Campfire is run by Henry Fawell, a PR veteran who has worked for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Here’s a link to the post.