At 8:29 a.m. Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake — later reclassified as a 7.1 — struck near Anchorage. It was the city’s most significant earthquake in 54 years. Our world shook, and when that shaking didn’t stop after a few seconds, our newsroom mobilized because we knew this earthquake would be different. Power outages hit different parts of Southcentral Alaska, gas leaks became a major concern, and some people couldn’t even send texts or make calls from their cellphones because systems were overloaded. Rumors started spreading, and it was hard to tell which were true.
We quickly wrote an initial take that would be the seed for the day’s main story. From there, reporters branched out to focus on different quake impacts. We told parents which schools had evacuated and where they could pick up their kids. We kept tabs on the tsunami risk — always a concern in our coastal communities. We told residents how to shut off their gas if needed, and what utilities and public officials were doing to ensure our safety. Several roads collapsed, and our staff went out to get solid facts for readers even though they couldn’t trust the pavement beneath them.
We turned to social media to find areas with the most damage and kept hearing about issues north near Wasilla. Traffic was gridlocked on the partially damaged Glenn Highway, the only major roadway north out of Anchorage. Without being able to drive the Glenn, we chartered a small plane so we could get timely aerial images to readers. That flight produced some of the most iconic photos of the quake.
We took down our paywall and in-line ads, and sent push alerts on critical public safety updates. On Nextdoor, Twitter and Facebook, we talked with readers about what questions they had. We curated a feed of real-time social media posts from public agencies, utilities and news staff so readers could get information in one place, fast — faster than we could write stories.
By the time we reached the 12-hour mark, we were thinking ahead to the next day’s coverage. Strong aftershocks would rattle the city through the night, leaving us all jumpy. We told residents how they could manage the psychological toll of the quake, and how to talk to their kids about it. We told them how they could look for structural damage at home, why the quake was felt differently across the city, and whether the water was safe to drink. No one died, which was a small miracle. Our city benefited from hard lessons learned after the devastating 1964 quake, and we explained that to readers too.
Many in the newsroom had emergencies to deal with at home. But our staff’s commitment to getting critical information to readers as quickly as possible never wavered, and I remain in awe of the work that was done in response to an event that shook our community in so many ways.