Federal quake data still flow

USGS website says agency suspended most operations

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When the Philippines was struck by an earthquake Tuesday morning, it was the U.S. Geological Survey website that flashed the details on how big the quake was and its location to aid the disaster response.

Along with rafts of items on World Seismicity Maps and Hazard Analysis Tools, the USGS has added another alert on its go-to website for earthquake and tsunami warnings: The data may not be reliable.

A pink banner reads: “Due to a lapse in Federal funding, the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program has suspended most of its operations.” While the Reston, Va.-based agency said it will keep monitoring, “the accuracy or timeliness of some earthquake information products, as well as the availability or functionality of some web pages, could be affected by our reduced level of operation.”

Any drop in USGS activity would affect less-developed nations such as the Philippines, which do less monitoring and rely on the USGS for global earthquake data, said Robert Geller, a professor of seismology at Tokyo University. It would also affect U.S. citizens, he said.

“If a big quake occurred now, hypothetically, inside the U.S., disaster relief work might be slowed down if USGS data wasn’t available to the government,” Geller said. The effect of the shutdown depends on whether the agency has curtailed the monitoring itself or stopped putting the data online, he said.

Despite the warning, the National Earthquake Information Center of the USGS at Golden, Colo., does not expect delays in seismic monitoring and said data are being gathered just as before the shutdown.

“At this point we are getting earthquakes posted on our website on time, within 20 minutes for magnitude 5 and larger worldwide, and earlier for a national event,” said Jana Pursley, a geophysicist at the center.

Earthquakes pose significant risk to 75 million Americans in 39 states, according to the USGS website. The USGS is the only federal agency responsible for recording and reporting earthquake activity and its information is used by citizens, emergency responders and engineers.

At least 93 people were killed in the Philippines as a result of the strongest quake to hit the nation in a year. The magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck 1.2 miles south of Carmen, Bohol, at 8:12 a.m. local time, according to the USGS.