We moved to Brooklyn from upstate NY on September 5, 2001.
And we moved to the 20th floor of the Woolworth Building just in time for the Earthquake.
These events seemed closely related right around 1:51pm on Tuesday August 23, 2011.
We were in a meeting when the building started moving. Bit of a rattle here and there. Then it started REALLY moving. This is not what you look for when you find a perch high up. It is actually the last thing you think about...until an 'event'.
We had no idea what it was, but it was impossible not to think of terrorism, earthquake, building collapse or all three. We are just a block from the World Trade Center site and it was just weeks until the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
We ran from the office immediately and down the fire stair right outside our office. Twenty flights of stairs may, especially going down, seem like a short trip, but it felt like it took FOREVER. When it appeared that we must be approaching the ground floor we were just hitting the tenth floor. When I heard someone ahead of us yell, "uh-oh" I thought of smoke or fire in the stairwell, but it was just the crowds heading in from other floors clogging the landings.
The extra large lady in black was another story. People were moving very quickly when we hit this human obstacle slowly making her way down. Like a badly driven car making it impossible to pass we jockeyed with the lady in black until we finally squeezed past her. People moved very quickly, some even running down the flights, but everyone (except the human 8 ball) cooperated and speeded their way out.
There is a great feeling of (hopefully) controlled panic as you run from an unknown danger. When Michael Bierut and I had to evacuate a jet on the runway at LaGuardia, we felt that panic as we ran across the tarmac waiting for, as Michael put it, the "Bruce Willis" moment (narrowly escaping an explosion from behind that throws us to the ground).
Once on the street we were tired, shaky, baffled and part of a growing crowd who soon realized that being surrounded by 50, 60 and 70 story buildings made it nearly impossible to get far enough away to avoid anything that might fall. The Woolworth Building is sheathed in glazed terracotta blocks that are brittle and subject to cracking and spalling even though they are attached to a flexible steel structural frame. Nearby buildings are clad in sheets of glass. A shower of debris would have been like mortar shells raining down.
We ran out without our phones, without locking the office and without wallets or money. It took a few minutes before we were sure what had happened and even then our shaky legs made it hard to tell if the tremor was over. It was perfect "9/11 weather" and as many people just headed home as decided to go back to work. One of us decided to take the ferry, rather than head underground. Some of us retrieved our bicycles and pedaled over the Brooklyn Bridge. And one went back upstairs to retrieve our valuables and lock the office (thank you Min!).
And one of our clients, who we met with that day, is off to Florida to brave the next imminent natural disaster: Hurricane Irene. Consider this your practice run, Stephen!