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Blackouts Will Not Affect USGS Earthquake Monitoring or Posting of Information
Released: 3/20/2001

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Pat Jorgenson 1-click interview
Phone: 650-329-4011



Editors/Reporters: Access to the earthquake monitoring center of the USGS may be obtained by calling Pat Jorgenson at 650-329-4011, or Susan Garcia at 650-329-4668.

Power outages that may occur on the San Francisco peninsula will not affect the earthquake monitoring ability of the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park.

"All our computer systems in the earthquake monitoring area have continually-charged batteries, so if power is lost, they go right on operating. If we were without power long enough to start draining the batteries, we have a large diesel-powered electrical generator that can be used indefinitely to produce power to run the computers," said Mary Lou Zoback, chief of the USGS earthquake hazards team. "We’ll continue to receive signals from our network of seismometers, and will be able to convey that data to the public officials who rely on it."

Whether or not others are able to access the USGS data on computers depends, of course, on whether or not the user has a back-up power source to keep their computers operating.

Having back-up generators is not new to the USGS earthquake program. On Oct. 17, 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake knocked out most electrical power on the peninsula, crucial earthquake-monitoring computers at the USGS had back-up battery power, and no incoming data from seismometers was lost. As the night wore on and the batteries began to weaken, USGS technicians hooked the computers up to a diesel-powered generator and were able to continue monitoring the hundreds of aftershocks from that earthquake, until electrical power was restored to the building on October 18.

In 1998 a back-up electrical system was installed that can generate 300 kilowatts of electricity, which assures that no data will be lost in future earthquakes. The main generator has a 1,000-gallon tank for diesel oil and can run for 200 hours on that 1,000 gallons.

The USGS, in cooperation with UC Berkeley, maintains a network of more than 500 seismometers throughout northern California that send signals by satellite, radio transmitters and telephone lines to Menlo Park, anytime the earth moves. As soon as a signal is received in Menlo Park, it is analyzed by computers that determine the location of the earthquake’s epicenter, by longitude and latitude; the magnitude, or amount of energy released by the earthquake; and the exact Pacific Standard or Daylight time that the earthquake occurred. That information is immediately posted to the USGS web site at http://quake.wr.usgs.gov, where it can be accessed by anyone with a computer, internet server and electrical power.

In addition to having back-up power for the earthquake-monitoring computers, the USGS also has a generator to provide uninterrupted power to maintain refrigeration systems in its water-analysis laboratories.

In case of a power outage, public functions of the USGS, such as its map sales center and access to its earth-science library will not be available.


The USGS serves the nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.

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