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Geological survey director discusses earthquake preparedness




As a kickoff to the 175th birthday of IU’s Geological Survey, U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt was invited to campus to give a lecture titled “Earthquakes Near and Far: A Study in Community Resiliency,” which took place Monday afternoon in the IU Fine Arts Auditorium.

The event was organized by the Department of Geological Sciences and IU Geology Professor Michael Hamburger.

“It’s like the political science department bringing the president to speak for them,” Hamburger said. “It really helps to connect geology with the issues of today and helps to explain why geology is important.”

While the audience awaited McNutt’s arrival, a small group of fellow geologists, including IU Assistant Director for Research Todd Thompson and USGS Geologist Kathleen Fowler, pored over a geological map of the bedrock of Monroe County. They traced the fault lines with their fingers and shared their mutual fascination for the subject before the presentation.

McNutt began her lecture by presenting the history of earthquakes around the world, including Hanshu, Japan, in 2011 and Haiti in 2010. In each case, McNutt focused on the region’s loss and how prepared residents were for the situation. McNutt then looked at the United States’ earthquake history and attempts to prepare for these natural disasters.  

“We can’t control earthquakes, but we control whether we are victims,” McNutt said.  

McNutt and the USGS have this control through a specialized program known as the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. The NEHRP’s goals include building public awareness, strengthening building codes and designing faster technology to warn the public.

Historical analysis of past earthquakes allows the NEHRP to learn from past mistakes and control outcomes. The NEHRP does not solely rely on historical research, but on citizen scientists as well.

To produce what is called a ShakeMap, which measures the extent that ground motion travels, researchers ask the public to share their experiences. Knowing where these individuals were at the time of the earthquake allows researchers to know how far the earthquake traveled.  

A main goal of McNutt’s and of the USGS is to improve safety. They do not want to see repeats of events such as the Kanto Earthquake in 1923.

“The people couldn’t flee the city,” McNutt said. “The fire from the earthquake caused their feet to melt to the tar of the roads, and they couldn’t move.”

Geological Science Associate Professor Claudia Johnson had a front-row view for the lecture.

“It helped to explain what the government is doing to warn citizens and to prevent further damage,” Johnson said.  

McNutt spoke about the importance of the relationship between the USGS and educational institutions.

“The USGS values its partnership with the geological survey and education,” McNutt said. “It is very important to meet the students who are the future.”

Danielle Bryant

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