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Photo from the ASIS and Security Management  offices after the earthquake by editor-in-chief Sherry Harowitz

Virginia Earthquake a Reminder for Adequate Disaster Planning

Security personnel at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and throughout Washington, D.C. were reminded of the need for an effective plan for disaster evacuations on Tuesday after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia sent shock waves as far north as Toronto, Canada, and as far South as South Carolina.

The offices of Security Management magazine and its parent, ASIS International, felt the effects as well, sustaining minor damages, such as shown in the above picture of past magazine covers that were sent crashing to the floor, ironically including the one in the forefront that highlights crisis evacuations.

Statewide, there have been few reports of major structural damage and no reports of casualties.

The quake, which started as a small tremor, but built up to enough to rattle buildings and shake pictures frames from walls, started four miles below the surface outside of Mineral, Virginia, according to the United States Geological Survey.

At the convention center, the quake happened in the middle of a conference that hosted hundreds from around the country. The convention center and buildings around Washington D.C. were evacuated as a precaution.

Using fire exit routes and handheld radios convention center security personnel directed the crowd out front of the building as the first reports of the earthquake were being relayed.

Mobile phone communication was limited because of high call volumes. Event staff worked the crowd to keep them informed while floor-by-floor, security and staff made sure no one was left inside the building.

Both Verizon and Sprint used twitter to inform customers of higher call volumes and to expect busy signals. A statement from the Department of Homeland Security urged cell phone users to send text messages or e-mails instead to alleviate the burden on cell phone towers.

The incident drives home the importance of planning, a frequent topic in the magazine. For example, Security Management associate editor Matthew Harwood discussed how proper planning and equipment can help get employees safely out of a danger zone after a disaster in our June 2011 cover story, "Planning for Tumultuous Times."

In a crisis, companies should have some kind of emergency backup communications devices because mobile phone towers can fail or be disrupted. Crisis experts recommend having a satellite phone on hand.

Companies should also have plans and training in advance - a recommendation from both crisis experts and FEMA’s online earthquake guide.

Until Tuesday, the largest earthquake in Virginia was a 4.8-magnitude quake in 1875.