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D.C. Councilman: Quake Response A Failure

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Workers in D.C. in the aftermath of the August earthquake -- officials are looking at how the city handled this kind of unexpected crisis.
Jonathan Wilson
Workers in D.C. in the aftermath of the August earthquake -- officials are looking at how the city handled this kind of unexpected crisis.

An earthquake, a hurricane, flooding from the remnants of a tropical storm and a terror threat. That has been the past month for the D.C. region. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which represents all the various jurisdictions, is taking a look back at what went right and wrong in in the handling of all those events. Much of the focus is on the earthquake, which officials labeled as a "no notice event", similar to a terrorist attack. If there are grades given for the response, D.C. councilman Phil Mendelson has one.

"The whole response of September 11, 2001 is to respond to the unexpected," Mendelson says. "And on the day of the earthquake, August 23rd, we failed in that regard."

One problem in particular ties the two events together for Mendelson.

"Cell phones weren't usable," he says. "All the communications stuff was, maybe I shouldn't say useless, but it was delayed."

Taking exception to Mendelson's comments is Fairfax County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald, who says the prevalence of smart phones has made communications easier since 9/11.

"The only thing that was missing after the earthquake was, you couldn't call someone and talk with them," says Fitzgerald. "But you could text them, you could tweet them, and you had access to the internet. So it's not as if everything went out."

Fitzgerald did say many people responded incorrectly to an earthquake by running out of their buildings, but blamed that on earthquakes being so rare for the region. She and others at the meeting called for a public education campaign to teach the proper response to any future quakes. 

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