U.S. Geological Survey Fails With Outdated Maps And Data For The Public

The recent swarm of earthquakes that occurred near Yorba Linda, California this week didn’t originate on the Whittier Fault, but on a little known fault called the “Yorba Linda Trend.” This small fault was discovered in the 1990s and it runs perpendicular to the Whittier Fault, according to Doug Given of the U.S. Geological Survey. This fault however doesn’t appear in the USGS’s map of California-Nevada Faults.

For the public and the media who relies on the USGS for seismic information, to not have all the known faults mapped on its website is a bit frustrating. People in Southern California were left asking were the quakes originated from, and many originally thought that they may have come from the Whittier Fault when in fact they didn’t.

Faults are serious business — they are what cause earthquakes and wouldn’t you want to know where they are to help you prepare better? I do. So, to not provide key information available to the public and the media is disconcerting.

I have never criticized the USGS before, but I feel like I have to today. If this fault, as small, as it is was discovered in the 1990s by the USGS, they have had plenty of time to add it to the fault map. It’s not an insignificant fault either since it is blamed for causing the 2008 Chino Hills earthquake which was 5.5 in magnitude.

Knowing and learning about earthquakes shouldn’t be just something left for the experts at the USGS when it leaves the rest of us wondering what’s going on. The public also has an interest in knowing what’s beneath their feet. I want to be aware if my house is sitting on a fault so that I can take the initiative to reinforce walls, for example.

Of course, not everyone in the public is checking the California-Nevada Fault Map everyday like I do, but a large portion of the population in Los Angeles is indeed concerned with the earthquakes that this area is prone to and they should be provided with the most up-to-date information by the USGS — this includes fault maps we can rely on.

Interestingly enough, the USGS website provides only one map with fault names for California-Nevada, and one map without fault names. There is a “Tips” section that tells readers how to interpret the maps, and of the tips reads: “Earthquakes can appear near a fault without having occurred on that fault. To associate an earthquake with a fault requires viewing both of them in three-dimensions.” Understood. Now, where is the link to the three-dimension map so that I can educate myself? Nowhere on the page.

Check out this link, where the USGS says that the last time the fault data was updated was on November 2010. That’s not a very good job for keeping the public informed if you ask me.

On the other hand, the USGS does indeed do a lot of great work and they should be commended for it, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t dropping the ball on something and in this case it’s their website. There should be a priority to constantly provide the public and the media with up-to-date information and data through a website that is updated daily.

Perhaps a lot of people aren’t expecting the USGS to provide them with jargon and technical talk no one understands but only geophysicists, but we do expect information that can be helpful specially if we need to plan for the unexpected. The more the USGS can do to keep us informed, the better we’ll do in preparing.

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2 Responses to U.S. Geological Survey Fails With Outdated Maps And Data For The Public

  1. Vote -1 Vote +1Ben
    August 30, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    The title of the article is irresponsible and misleading. The phrase “U.S. Geological Fails” implies that the USGS is at fault for providing the public with outdated information. As an employee of the USGS, let me assure you, it is certainly not the fault of the USGS. In the annual congressional budget, x number of dollars are allocated to the USGS. Over the pass few years, especially the past two, many of the R&D government agencies have experienced a slow decline in funding. Unlike private enterprises, the USGS doesn’t have much in the way of a lobby. From a political perspective, it’s not hard to assume that you won’t find many Americans who care about allocating the proper amount of funds to support the USGS. The speed at which the USGS is able to update information is directly controlled by the number of employees, which is determined by the amount of annual funds allocated. Unfortunately, like the EPA, the USGS has been understaffed for years, making it difficult to provide the public with the latest information.

    Under funding various government agencies has been a tactic of the GOP for decades. The logic is simple: A reduction in funding causes a reduction in productivity or output. This shortfall provides the GOP with another example of bad government. USGS employees work very hard, many of them, well over 40 hours per week, but thanks to funding reductions still lack the manpower to provide the public with updated information.

  2. Vote -1 Vote +1Ben
    August 30, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Just like with dozens of other agencies, if you want results then you need to pay for them. You can’t leave the SEC with so little funding that they can’t even purchase a copy machine and expect it to keep tabs on Wall Street. The same goes for the USGS and the EPA.