UC Berkeley Seismology Lab monitoring Northern California earthquakes during government shutdown

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Amanda Ramirez/Senior Staff

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With the government shutdown of the U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS, Menlo Park office, the UC Berkeley Seismology Laboratory, or BSL, is now responsible for monitoring Northern California seismic activity.

Various federal agencies have been affected by the partial government shutdown, including USGS, which has furloughed many of its workers. USGS will retain 75 employees out of about 8,000 employees during the shutdown, according to its contingency plan.

“Due to a lapse in appropriations, the majority of USGS websites may not be up to date and may not reflect current conditions,” the USGS website said.

The campus is in agreement with the U.S. government that BSL will conduct a brief initial assessment of any earthquake in the occurrence of a government shutdown.

BSL operates with USGS Menlo Park to report earthquake information “within a few minutes of occurrence,” according to the BSL website. UC Berkeley and USGS Menlo Park also work in collaboration with the California Geological Survey, Caltech, USGS Pasadena and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to create a statewide monitoring system.

With USGS Menlo Park closed, BSL has been providing more analysis and information to the community, including the location and magnitude of earthquakes, while the USGS website has been automatically releasing tracking information about earthquakes.

In the past week, two earthquakes have hit the Hayward Fault, causing community members in the Bay Area to feel multiple aftershocks.

BSL operations manager Peggy Hellweg said that the USGS computers collect data which is then forwarded to BSL for processing.

“The earthquake reporting system is mostly an automatic system, but it’s reviewed by people and the computers,” Hellweg said. “We have a set of computers that do the analysis in Berkeley and the USGS has a set of computers that do the analysis at USGS.”

BSL has a year’s worth of funding from USGS, but its funding from the current year ends Feb. 1. Hellweg said the lab should have received a letter from USGS regarding renewal of the funds, but it has not yet received one and is currently unclear about the status of its funds.

“My understanding from the USGS is that they’re trying to clarify what the status is from our funding,” Hellweg said.

Prior to the government shutdown, BSL set up its computers to be master systems for all analyses, interactions and reports on earthquakes in Northern California. This allows BSL staff to control earthquake reporting.

All systems are currently running and nothing has broken down, according to Hellweg.

“We also collect data from our stations … and the USGS collects data from its stations that go into the processing,” Hellweg said. “As long as that’s working well, there are no problems.”

In the event of a major incident, department policy allows BSL to call in USGS staff members for assistance.

Thao Nguyen covers student life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tnguyen_dc.