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Stations Scramble to Cover Eastern, Western Quakes - Broadcasting & Cable

Stations Scramble to Cover Eastern, Western Quakes

Rush to go live in the face of unforeseen natural disasters
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Updated 4:00 p.m.ET.

A pair of earthquakes, occurring late Aug. 22 in Colorado and the afternoon of Aug. 23 outside Washington, had station staffs scrambling to cover the natural disasters.

The 5.9 quake seemingly came out of the blue in suburban Virginia, and was felt several states away.

"We all felt it -- we all thought it was a Metro train going under us," says WJLA VP of News Bill Lord. "Then it got worse and worse and worse."

Lord, speaking about 30 minutes after the quake, said staffers promptly resorted to their "battle stations," such as the control room and out in the field, to tackle the unique story. "The sites are going crazy, [News Channel 8] cable is going crazy, the stations are on all over the place," he says.

Parent Allbritton is based in the region, in Arlington. Across town, WRC Senior Producer of Content Matt Glassman was marking his 23rd year in Washington when the quake shook NBC's building in NW Washington. "I've never felt anything like this in Washington," he says.

The station had the good fortune of having anchor Barbara Harrison shoot a cooking segment with a couple local chefs from her home as the quake hit, which provided a live shot of the frightful shaking.

Up I-95 a bit in Philly, WTXF was live at 1:59 -- eight minutes after the quake struck that region, says Steve Schwaid, VP, news. Like Lord, he initially thought it was a subway rattling below ground.

"The great thing was, nobody said, 'Let's get out of the building,'" says Schwaid, who took over the news director job last month. "They said, 'we gotta get going here.'"

Meanwhile, a quake that measured 5.3 hit southern Colorado outside Trinidad -- and around 90 miles south of Pueblo, which is part of the Colorado Springs DMA. Around a dozen aftershocks kept residents of the small mountain towns that were affected on edge.

"Usually they shake the windows and don't really do anything," says KOAA interim News Director Greg Boyce. "This one actually did some damage."

Stations in regions where earthquakes are relatively common drill frequently on how to proceed in the event of such an occurence. Stations where quakes don't generally strike rely on more general emergency plans.

News executives in both regions said social media positively lit up in the seconds that followed the natural disasters, with residents supplying perspective, photos and video. "The instantaneousness of it was incredible--watching it blow up on Facebook and Twitter," says Michael Sipes, news director at KRDO Colorado Springs.

While both quakes have thus far caused minor damage, but not serious injuries or fatalities, both will nonetheless remain lead stories through the evening commute, and beyond.

"We are on until further notice," says Schwaid.

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