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November 1999

How prepared are residents in mid-America for a major earthquake? That answer varies with whom you ask. Unfortunately, to most in the region earthquakes are just news items on CNN, occurring at distant locales far from their back porches. Most would express surprise if you told them that the largest earthquake in the conterminous United States occurred smack dab in the middle of the region. Even if they are aware of the “ancient” New Madrid quake or vaguely remember the media commotion of Iben Browning’s dire prediction that a massive earthquake would hit the New Madrid region on Dec. 3, 1990, most haven’t thought about it seriously for years. Out of sight, out of mind.

Luckily for these mid-continent residents it is very much on the minds of the members of the state emergency management agencies and geological surveys in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. Norman Hester, recently retired Indiana State Geologist, and his colleagues, Ira Satterfield and Robert Bauer, tell us this month about an organization very concerned with the well-being of central U.S. residents and the infrastructure supporting them. The Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC), created in 1983, is prepared to deal with earthquake-caused disasters. It addresses “the concerns of the user community—the insurance and banking industries, utility companies, the Departments of Energy and Transportation, the business community” and others to assure that these organizations are ready to deal with and move beyond the effects of a sudden, large-magnitude earthquake. At the same time, promoting the need for cooperation, Hester and others in CUSEC formed the Association of CUSEC State Geologists to coordinate basic seismic research for the region.

CUSEC’s labors have paid off. It is a key player in the Central United States Partnership formed earlier this year to unite a variety of organizations, such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the Institute for Business and Home Safety, in preparing for a central U.S. earthquake. The Association of CUSEC State Geologists has taken the lead to coordinate activities in mid-America states and has initiated basic research, GIS networks and thematic mapping. Through these coordinated efforts, a clearer understanding of earthquake hazards will develop for this outwardly stable region.

Our second article completes a two-part interview with U.S. Geological Survey Director Charles (Chip) Groat. Dr. Grout continues his in-depth discussion of the changes, both current and anticipated, for the nation’s premier earth science research organization. Through its organizational divisions (Geologic, Biological Resources, National Mapping and Water Resources) and strong regional management, the USGS is positioned to be a major voice for the prudent management of our nation’s resources.

Finally, a quick mention of this month’s Political Scene: David Wunsch, AGI’s first annual Congressional Science Fellow, sums up his political year on the Hill. Dr. Wunsch, on loan from the Kentucky Geological Survey, worked as a staff member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. His experiences as an “outsider” working within the Beltway give us a glimpse of the intricacies of developing public policy.

 Good reading.

Victor V. van Beuren, Editor, Geotimes

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