March/April 2006

Tilly Smith is a British girl who, at age 10, was credited with saving nearly a hundred foreign tourists at Maikhao Beach in Thailand by raising the alarm minutes before the arrival of the tsunami caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. Having learnt about tsunamis in a geography lesson at school in Oxshott, Surrey, two weeks previously, she recognized the receding shoreline and fr othing bubbles on the surface of the sea and alerted her parents, who warned others on the beach and the staff at the hotel on Phuket. The beach was evacuated before the tsunami reached shore, and was one of the few beaches on the island with no reported casualties.


Did the actions of an elementary school student who remembered her geography lesson help more people survive the 2004 Sumatra earthquake and tsunami than 100 years of scientific research on earthquakes and seismic waves? In the 100th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the story of Tilly Smith illustrates the practical importance of public outreach and education. A shelf full of BSSAs is of little use during an earthquake—and may present a significant hazard if perched high above your head on a poorly secured bookcase.

The founders of the Seismological Society recognized the need for public outreach and urged the membership to “promote public safety by all practical means” and to “inform the public by appropriate publications, lectures and other means,” as well as encouraging scientific research and improving building practices. Funding organizations also recognize the need for outreach eff orts and oft en require that a percentage of their awards go to education and outreach. Despite the considerable eff orts made in the area, few journals provide a home for information about education and outreach related to seismology. The Eduquakes column is an attempt to address this need and to improve knowledge of education eff orts among the SRL readership.

The purpose of the Eduquakes column, as stated by Larry Ruff in the initial column in July 1998, is to provide a diverse and flexible forum for discussing education and outreach relevant to the SSA mission. Larry retired from his role as faithful EduQuakes columnist several years ago; since that time a collection of Education and Outreach papers was published in a special issue (Seismological Research Letters 74, 489–653. On the auspicious occasion of the centennial of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, EduQuakes returns. My hope is to continue to build on the success of earlier columns and articles. While previous EduQuakes columns have emphasized education related to earthquake seismology (likely reflecting the fact that many readers of SRL are actively involved in this area), topics and ideas from the entire spectrum of SSA interests are solicited. In general, EduQuakes is not intended to provide fundamental information but rather to act as a pointer (with comments) to the information source. Guest authors are defi nitely encouraged. Content may include opinion and editorial remarks as well as information snippets. All comments, suggestions, and possible ideas should be sent to me at the e-mail address below. In the next year or so, I hope to cover the following topics: online encyclopedias, museum exhibits, visualization, amateur seismology, seismic safety legislation, and book publication. If you have comments and/or alternate selections, please send them.

At the top of this article is a paragraph from the rapidly expanding web-based encyclopedia Wikipedia. A quick scan through the Wikipedia article on the 2004 Sumatran earthquake yielded a remarkable amount of information, much of which was in place within days aft er the event. In contrast, the entry on “seismology” is much more sparse. A recent comparison in Nature (15 December 2005) of Wikipedia with other traditional encyclopedias found similar accuracy rates between the two. But given the ease with which Wikipedia entries can be modified, it might be useful for members of the seismological community to take a look at (and perhaps edit) relevant articles. Many students and the general public likely are using these articles and relying on them to be accurate.

In closing I would like to call your attention to another ongoing outreach program: the IRIS/SSA Distinguished Lecture Series. It began in 2003 and seeks to communicate the excitement of seismology to general audiences. Three to six lectures typically are funded each year at various types of venues, oft en museums, but also the yearly SSA and IRIS meetings. IRIS and SSA provide assistance with lecture preparation and scheduling. This year, the IRIS/SSA Distinguished Lecturers are Dr. Seth Stein (giant earthquakes), Dr. Ed Garnero (the birth and death of the Earth’s surface), and Dr. Mary Lou Zoback (the 1906 San Francisco earthquake).

The challenge is to entertainingly present a complex topic for a general audience in a relatively short amount of time. Nominations and suggestions for future lecturers are always welcome (self-nomination is both allowed and encouraged). See for more details about where to see this year’s lecturers and for more information about nominations.

Rob Mellors
San Diego State University




Posted: 23 March 2006