2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:40 PM


APPLEGATE, David, U.S. Geological Survey, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive MS 905, Reston, VA 20192, applegate@usgs.gov

The long-term viability of the geosciences depends on public support. A necessary precursor for such support is having a public aware of the value that the geosciences can offer society. Because of the intense media exposure associated with geologic hazard events, particularly those that are catastrophic in nature, geoscientists working in the hazard arena have a unique opportunity to communicate to the public and policymakers at a time when getting their attention has already been accomplished.

Just as geoscientists have an obligation to learn everything that they can from destructive events to build future resilience, they also have an obligation to make the most of the teachable moment that such events provide when public attention turns from the other news of the day and focuses on our active planet.

For an agency with operational responsibilities during a geologic hazard event, a major challenge is to provide the media with the information they need without compromising the primary responsibility to support public safety decisionmaking. Dividing duties is essential so that the scientists involved in crisis response remain focused on the job at hand while feeding the information sought by the public to others designated to focus on effective communication. This division is particularly important in the wake of significant disasters. Once deemed newsworthy, the coverage of an event in today's non-stop news cycle and multiplying news outlets can quickly become relentless with an accompanying insatiable need for credible experts from government and academia to lend their perspective.

USGS, other federal and state geoscience agencies, and universities have all made considerable progress in responding to the public's need to know during and in the immediate aftermath of geologic hazard events. But there is also a second wave of opportunity for coordination that could be further developed: generating editorials and opinion pieces in local and national media outlets reflecting on lessons learned and pointing the way toward reducing vulnerability in the future. Combined with ongoing public outreach and education, such articles can help extend the teachable moment and at the same time underscore the value of the geosciences for society.