Lucy Jones, Southern California’s ‘earthquake lady,’ wins ‘Oscar’ for government service

Lucy Jones

Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey discusses California’s earthquake early-warning system in April. Jones is recognized across Southern California for her ability to explain earthquakes to the general public.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Lucy Jones, Southern California’s “earthquake lady” and a driving force behind Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti’s ambitious seismic safety plan, was awarded the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in Citizen Services, officials announced Wednesday.

Often referred to as the “Oscars” of government service, the “Sammies” recognize federal workers who have made a notable impact in the United States and around the world. Judges considered nearly 500 nominations and selected eight winners out of 30 finalists.

Jones, who joined the U.S. Geological Survey in 1983, is recognized across Southern California for her research and ability to explain earthquakes to the general public.

Among her colleagues, she is known for turning complicated science into public action. She has built partnerships with local government, emergency managers, building officials, academic institutions and business interest groups.


“I believe it is our obligation as scientists working for the American people to make information from our science understandable by non-scientists so that it can be used to support others in making our country safer from inevitable natural disasters,” Jones said.

Last year, she served as Garcetti’s science advisor for seismic safety and helped shepherd his landmark proposal to strengthen the city’s buildings, telecommunication and water infrastructure most at risk of failing in a massive earthquake. The City Council is now reviewing the proposals, and mandatory building retrofitting laws could be in place by the end of the year.

“Dr. Jones’ groundbreaking work to bridge the gap between seismic science and public action will make a life-saving difference for countless Angelenos and Californians when disaster strikes,” Garcetti said in a statement. “I couldn’t be prouder of the work we did together to better prepare our city for the inevitable.”

Jones’ research as a seismologist includes the ShakeOut scenario, which examines the effect of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on the San Andreas fault in Southern California. The report changed the way officials use scientific data when considering earthquake risks.


DOCUMENT: Southern California “ShakeOut” earthquake scenario 

Her work has prompted the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to begin replacing a tunnel that imports water across the San Andreas fault, and Southern California Edison has spent $20 million to study earthquake impacts on their systems, officials said Wednesday, when they announced Jones’ award.

The study also led to the ShakeOut drill, an earthquake education campaign that began in 2008 and has become the largest public safety drill in the world, officials said. More than 26.5 million people practiced the drill in 2014, and more are expected to participate in the one scheduled for Oct. 15 next week.

The Sammies this year also recognize government workers whose projects include reducing the use of antibiotics in poultry, beefing up cybersecurity, supplying people in developing countries with clean and efficient cook stoves, solving management issues in the Department of Labor, and repairing and strengthening transportation infrastructure that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

The top medal, Federal Employee of the Year, goes to Steven A. Rosenberg, chief of the surgery branch at the National Cancer Institute, for his “life-saving treatments that stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells,” officials said.

The National Security and International Affairs Medal was given to Mia Beers and her 40-person U.S. Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Too often, the vital work of our nation’s public servants goes unnoted and unappreciated,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of Partnership for Public Service, which presents the annual awards. The Sammies "recognize and celebrate the many exceptional federal employees who have quietly, proudly and passionately dedicated their lives to making a difference for our country -- and our world.”

The eight awards will be presented Wednesday at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. There will be a live stream of the ceremony from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. PDT.


Follow @RosannaXia on Twitter for more news about seismic safety. 

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