Timing Is Everything: Louisa County, VA - Earthquake Epicenter

When the 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit the East Coast last August, the epicenter was near Louisa County, Virginia, about 45 minutes from our Richmond office. The earthquake had a severe impact on this rural county, damaging several buildings, including six schools. Two of the schools—Louisa County High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School—had to be closed immediately.

Jumping into Action

Working with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM), county officials and school administrators jumped into action quickly. Time was of the essence. We provided VDEM and the county with preliminary assessments of the damage, while school administrators quickly structured an interim solution to accommodate displaced students for the remainder of the school year.

Right from the start, county officials demonstrated their leadership and agility in responding to this challenge, bringing in resources and focusing on the necessary steps to secure disaster funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. With the preliminary assessments completed for VDEM in hand, our team was then asked to prepare a comprehensive report with detailed assessments and cost estimates. The report would be submitted along with Virginia Governor O’Donnell’s request for a federal disaster declaration and funding assistance.

A Collaborative Effort

FEMA’s deadline placed the timing challenge squarely on the shoulders of the Dewberry team, as we had a little over two weeks to complete all of the damage assessments, prepare cost estimates, and complete the report. Joined by engineers and architects from our Fairfax, Danville, and Raleigh offices, our team was able to meet the challenge. The governor submitted the disaster declaration request by the October deadline, and FEMA quickly responded with its approval.

As a result, Louisa County secured the funding for the complete replacement of the two most severely damaged schools, as well as additional financial assistance for repairs and emergency services at other damaged facilities.

Preparation and Follow-Through

Our work with Louisa County Public Schools (LCPS) actually began before the earthquake, and continues today. Here again, timing has been everything. The year before the earthquake, Dewberry designed improvements to strengthen several walls at the high school that were in a state of disrepair. Thanks to the diligent and timely oversight of LCPS in addressing this facility issue, the construction of these improvements was completed prior to the earthquake. This proved to be critical as students were in the building when the earthquake hit.

We have continued to assist the school system with fast-track engineering plans to develop a modular high school campus for students on an interim basis, and with follow-up emergency assessments as the region endures aftershocks. In responding to emergencies such as this major earthquake, the importance of “rapid response” has been especially clear. I’m grateful for colleagues here at Dewberry who are ready and willing to jump in and help on a moment’s notice. In Louisa County, it’s made a tremendous difference.