I’m sure you heard about it on the news, but we experienced an earthquake last week.

It happened on June 23 at 13:41 EDT. The last one I remember was a magnitude 4.5 in February 2006, though I initially mistook that one for a truck going by. This one was obviously not a truck. It was first reported as being magnitude 5.5 though it was later downgraded to 5.0.

I work in a low-rise building, on the third of three floors. It doesn’t seem like a tremendously sturdy building as loud noises from the floor below are audible, and I can even tell when those who sit near me arrive in the morning because I feel their steps vibrate through the floor. I was sitting at my desk and it started with only a sound. It was like a vehicle approaching, with a steadily increasing volume. I stood up and turned to look outside. Of course I saw nothing out of the ordinary.

The sounds grew louder and louder, and an increasingly energetic shaking accompanied it. It clearly wasn’t an explosion because those are more sudden! I remember saying to myself, “It can’t be an earthquake.” My neighbour replied, “Well, what do you think it is?” I turned toward him, and I could see the blinds and the cubicle dividers shaking. It continued to get worse until I wondered if the floor would give way. What I found most strange, was that not only were things shaking, but the floor was plainly moving. I had never experienced such a thing. I have no doubt that I was overcompensating, but I had widened my stance to make sure I didn’t fall.

I stood in place and looked around. It never occurred to me that I should run or otherwise do anything. The earthquake soon faded away and everything was normal. The news reports said the entire event lasted about 20 seconds. That sounds about right though would’ve been hard-pressed to estimate a duration on my own.

Once it had ended, I wondered what I should do. I could hear conversation around me between others wondering exactly the same thing. I’ve since read that the Ottawa area hasn’t had an earthquake of this strength in 65 years. It’s no wonder that a course of action didn’t leap to mind. I figured it would be best to leave the building so I grabbed my phone, keys, iPad, and I left my desk. Don walked out into the aisle and I said, “C’mon, let’s go!” He laughed. Perhaps less time had elapsed than I thought. I walked over to his desk and he gathered his things. Most everyone was gathering their possessions.

We heard someone running toward the exit yelling, “Earthquake! Earthquake!” Since no one was panicking, it was incredibly obvious that he was afraid. The image that came to mind was the Seinfeld episode in which George is at a child’s birthday party when someone yells fire. He starts pushing to get out first. At one point, he pushes an old lady who is using a walker, and she falls to the ground as he runs past. There was nothing to panic about, yet this guy was clearly agitated and running to the exit. I’m still annoyed because such idiotic behaviour during an emergency can get someone hurt. At the same time however, I’m also very amused at his yelling like a girl and running when no one else was.

Everyone went outside, and after perhaps a half-hour, we all went back inside and got back to work. I don’t know if there was any sort of inspection performed, but it seemed pretty clear that the building wasn’t in any imminent danger of collapse. The only physical sign of the event were a few ceiling tiles that had fallen in a cubicle. Happily, cubicle resident wasn’t at his desk when they came down.

I sent an e‑mail message to my sister and called my mother because I didn’t want them to worry when they heard about it on the news. It never occurred to me that they would have felt it themselves, but they did. I also talked to a friend who warned me that the power was out on my typical route home, so I went another way. I was in no mood for intersection after intersection of non-functioning traffic lights. My detour was a success and I saw nothing out of the ordinary on my way home.

I knew my apartment building had survived because I logged into my firewall from the office. The power hadn’t even gone out. If the building had come down, it’s unlikely that the firewall would be in working order! When I arrived at home, everything was as I had left it. The excitement was over.

I heard all about it on the news that evening and the most interesting thing was what you’re supposed to do. Apparently, the best course of action is to stand in a doorway or get under your desk. You’re not supposed to make a run for the exit. This makes sense. If the building collapses, you’re not going to make it out. You’re done, no matter what. If part of the internal structure of the building falls, being under your desk could save you. Running for the exit while the earthquake is happening will only get you and others hurt.

The epicentre of the earthquake was about 50 km north of here. It was felt easily in Toronto an Montreal, though some report feeling it as far away as Michigan and Pennsylvania. The earthquake was deep, having occurred some 20 km below the Earth’s surface, which may be the reason the effects were felt so far away.

Wikipedia already has a page about the 2010 Central Canada earthquake.