Environment & Science

Quake expert Dr. Lucy Jones retiring from USGS

In this file photo, Lucy Jones, a USGS seismologist talks during a news conference at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif, on Monday, March 17, 2014. In a tweet Friday, Jones said she was leaving federal service but would continue working at Caltech.
In this file photo, Lucy Jones, a USGS seismologist talks during a news conference at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif, on Monday, March 17, 2014. In a tweet Friday, Jones said she was leaving federal service but would continue working at Caltech.
Nick Ut/AP

Listen to story

08:23
Download this story 4.0MB

Southern California earthquake expert Dr. Lucy Jones said Friday she is retiring from her position with the U.S. Geological Survey. She spoke about her retirement with KPCC.

The seismologist has been a familiar voice over the years, providing context on some of the biggest earthquakes to hit Southern California and partnering with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to come up with recommendations to strengthen the city's earthquake resiliency.

Jones said she is being careful to say that she is retiring from federal service, but that her work isn't done. She plans on speaking out to encourage policies that will prepare Southern California for disasters — like earthquakes — and explaining the science of our environment in the context of global warming. 

“I am 61, which is actually the age at which my mother died, so it makes me aware this isn’t eternal, and the time in Los Angeles that I worked in the city in 2014 showed me what a desperate need there was to close the gap between science and policymakers,” Jones told KPCC.

Jones has worked for the USGS for more than three decades.

“It’s a significant part of the USGS that we’re only science and we aren’t policy, we’d have no regulatory responsibilities, and that I’d want to move into a better interaction with policymakers,” Jones said. “As a federal employee it is absolutely imperative that I not provide any response to questions about funding, because I can’t try to tell Congress what to do. When I’m not a federal employee it’ll be a different answer."

In Southern California, she has been both a pop culture ambassador for earthquake science and a calm voice of reason in a place where talk of the "Big One" is never far off.

Soundcloud quote

“When it really gets down to it, what really matters, to me it is Southern California. I’m a fourth generation Southern Californian, this is very much home, and we need to change our attitude about earthquakes beyond just the city of Los Angeles if we want to be here and be well after the next big earthquake," Jones said.

She'll be staying on at Caltech — doing the parts she enjoys the most.

“I get to pick the cherries off the ice cream right now and enjoy just the best part of it,” Jones said.

Jones attended the premiere of the Dwayne Johnson film "San Andreas," about a continent-cracking quake that strikes the West Coast, taking the opportunity to live-tweet what was right and what was wrong about the movie's science.

She gave a cool, reasoned response to a report finding a 99.9 percent chance of a major quake within three years.

In January 2014, on the 20th anniversary of the 6.7-magnitude Northridge quake, Garcetti announced the city was bringing Jones on board for a year as an adviser.

Her role was to provide recommendations on how the city can prepare for and more quickly recover from a major earthquake, looking at things like building retrofits, protecting the city's water supply and maintaining communication systems.

In April that year, the city announced it was planning a first-of-its-kind rating system for buildings' seismic safety.

And in December, Garcetti and Jones announced a new citywide earthquake preparedness plan.

"The biggest risk to our lives is posed by our older buildings," she said at the time.

In a tweet Friday, Jones indicated that she'll still be on hand if the city needs her advice.

Tweet

This story has been updated.