USGS Ramps Up Earthquake Monitoring Effort

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) National Earthquake Center has unveiled upgraded technology, 24/7 staffing, and a new website to be rolled out over the next few months in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and a wider call for better earthquake monitoring. The effort includes HYDRA, a system that will provide more detailed information about earthquakes and their potential for damage based on the region affected. HYDRA is expected to be completed in March 2006.

By providing staffing for operations around the clock, the USGS hopes to provide more timely information about earthquakes soon after they occur. The existing website, located at http://earthquake.usgs.gov, already provides maps, news and an RSS feed about recently detected earthquakes from around the world. A redesign set to debut at the end of January 2006 will enhance the site with information from the new monitoring system.

Emergency appropriations and congressional funding for the effort came last year after the magnitude 9.0 Sumatra Earthquake and tsunami that followed killed nearly 300,000 people on December 26, 2004 in one of the worst natural disasters in recent history. Experts believe that monitoring equipment in the Indian Ocean and improved notification technology could have helped prevent many of these deaths. Although the USGS detected the earthquake immediately after it occurred, they were unable to track down the appropriate authorities in countries in the affected region. Earthquake monitoring equipment and notification already exist for the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Earthquakes occur at boundaries where the plates that make up the Earth’s lithosphere and crust collide with, separate from or scrape past each other, as well as localized areas of instability caused by volcanic activity, faulting, and other phenomena. In the United States, 39 states are considered to be at some significant risk of earthquakes. The increasing number of people who live in earthquake prone regions will require continued improvements in current monitoring and notification technologies.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype and is forthcoming from The Laurel Review. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.