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The Frank Press Public Service Award

Frank Press

The Frank Press Public Service Award award honors outstanding contributions to the advancement of public safety or public information relating to seismology. This award may be given to any individual, combination of individuals, or organization. No more than one Public Service Award may be given each calendar year. The Public Service Award is presented at the annual meeting following the year of the award.

View the Recipients

Call for Nominations

Nomination Procedure

Any member of the SSA may nominate a candidate for this award. A nomination package must be submitted to the Secretary of the Society at the address below no later than 15 February. The nominations package should contain a letter of nomination no more than 2 pages long summarizing the nominee's significant accomplishments and 2 - 4 supporting letters no more than 2 pages long. At least one supporting letter should be written by an SSA member. If an individual is being nominated, a curriculum vitae or biography is advisable, but not required. Please note that the principal nominator should integrate the nomination letters and send ONE nomination package to ensure that all letters of endorsement reach the decision makers on time. Questions may be directed to the Chair of the Frank Press Public Service Award Subcommittee, Sue Hough <hough [at] usgs [dot] gov>. Please list Press Public Service award - Question as the subject line.

Nominations for all SSA awards are solicited from the members to be sent to the SSA Secretary, by the due date of 15 February. Electronic submissions should be e-mailed in .TXT, .PDF or .DOC files to <>. While electronic submissions are encouraged, hard copies may be mailed to:

Secretary, Seismological Society of America
c/o Susan Newman
400 Evelyn Ave, Suite 201
Albany, California 94706-1375
Fax: +1-510-525-7204


Recipients of the Frank Press Public Service Award

2012: Randall White

Photo of Randall White The Seismological Society of America (SSA) will honor seismologist Randall White for his scientific leadership in response to volcanic eruptions, both saving lives and sharing his techniques of eruptions forecasting that are now in use at volcano observatories around the world. SSA will award White with the Frank Press Public Service Award on April 17 during its annual meeting, April 17-19 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Frank Press Public Service Award recognizes outstanding work that serves the profession of seismology or the advancement of public safety or public information relating to seismology.

For more than 35 years, White has served the public in the U.S. and overseas through his work as a volcano and tectonic seismologist. Having worked for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) since 1974, White has served since 1991 as a seismologist with the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP), which provides assistance to local and foreign governments during developing volcanic crises. Following the disastrous eruption of Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia in 1985, the USGS and the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance developed VDAP to respond to volcanic crises around the world, with the primary goal of reducing fatalities and economic losses in the affected region.

“Randy White is recognized internationally as the best seismologist to have at a volcano crisis when an accurate and timely analysis of the likelihood and magnitude of an eruption is of paramount importance,” said David Hill, scientist emeritus with the USGS. “More than any other individual, White has pioneered the science of operational eruptions forecasting and prediction.”

White has extensive experience from his involvement with volcano crises around the world. Using seismic data he has accurately predicted more than 60 volcanic crises at more than 30 volcanoes throughout Central and South America, Africa, southeast Asia, Kamchatka and the United States. He recognized the characteristic patterns and frequencies of earthquakes that commonly precede eruptions, leading to simple forecasting tools that can be maintained in environments with limited technology.

In addition to consultations usually on site during crises, White has also sought to teach his colleagues from more than 20 observatories in Latin America, Africa and southeast Asia about the patterns and data sets that are the foundation for his forecasts, building local scientific capacity and encouraging collaboration among the volcano observatories.

White has contributed to understanding regional tectonics through his work on the upper crustal seismology of Central America, through focused studies of individual upper- crustal earthquakes such as the Guatemala earthquake of 1816, the San Salvador earthquake of 1986 and the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. His work and commitment to public service led him to help establish national seismic observatories in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, and he has helped establish or greatly expand seismic and/or volcano observatories in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Mariana Islands, Colombia, Ecuador and Chile.

“Randy White has built a truly lasting legacy of public service,” said Hill.

2011: Eric Calais

Photo of Eric Calais Throughout Eric Calais's career studying active deformation at plate boundaries and interiors, Eric Calais always had a focus on key questions for hazard assessment, particularly in northeastern Caribbean, one of his longtime study areas. When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Calais was among the first scientists to arrive on the ground to investigate the event. He subsequently served as the chief scientific advisor and coordinator for the United Nations, Haitian government and scientific agencies.

For his extraordinary leadership in earthquake safety in the reconstruction of Haiti and devotion to their people, Eric Calais will receive the Frank Press Public Service Award from the Seismological Society of America on April 17 at the Society's annual meeting in San Diego.

In the early 1990s, Calais, then a doctoral student, engaged in research on active faults in the northern Caribbean. In 2001, then professor of geophysics at Purdue University, Calais established a research program aimed at determining the level of hazard posed by active faults in the northeastern Caribbean, which included fieldwork in Haiti. By 2007, his team had published slip rates for the two main plate boundary faults, providing critical information for seismic hazard assessment. As a result of this work, Calais' team forecasted, in 2008, the potential for earthquakes similar to the event that struck Haiti in 2010.

With years of experience working in Haiti, Calais not only published scientific articles on his observations that indicated the potential for large earthquakes in Haiti, but he also worked to raise awareness among the public and national authorities and to build the scientific capacity within Haiti.

Upon his return to Haiti after the 2010 quake, Calais' professional network, connections and expertise in the region positioned him to provide needed scientific counsel to national and international political leaders and policymakers. He served as a science adviser to the UN, stationed in Port-au-Prince, and was also recruited to serve as co-chair of the United Nations Haiti Earthquake Risk Reduction Task Force.

Calais was appointed chief editor for the prestigious journal Geophysical Research Letters in 2009 and has served as an expert consultant for the World Bank, the International Development Bank and the United Nations. He received a Ph.D. in earth sciences from the University of Nice, France, in 1991 and was a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography from 1992 to 1995.

2010: Hugo Yepes

photo of Hugo YepesThe Frank Press Public Service Award was presented to Ecuadorian seismologist Hugo Yepes at SSA's 2011 annual meeting in Memphis, Tennessee. Yepes’ work throughout his career advanced hazard assessment and risk mitigation efforts in Ecuador and South America.

For more than 20 years, Hugo Yepes has dedicated his life to furthering geological hazard assessment and risk mitigation in Ecuador related to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. By managing the national networks for seismic, volcanic and geodetic observation, embracing open data sharing with other South American networks in one of the world’s most geologically active regions, and spending substantial amounts of his time talking to authorities and the media, Yepes’ work has been critical to translating science for the public good.

Yepes, director of the Instituto Geofísico at the National Polytechnic School in Quito, Ecuador, is responsible for the seismic hazard assessment in Ecuador and is the scientific advisor on the management of the active volcanoes, including Guagua Pichincha, which sits directly over Quito, Cotopaxi and Tungurahua, located within the Interandean Valley south of Quito. The three volcanoes are active and put large populations at risk. Yepes’ is the leader of the rapid response teams and rapid assessment teams for seismic events and volcanic eruptions. He has dedicated his career to mitigation activities, including updating instrumentation for observation to understand the behavior of different volcanoes and seismic zones. He is also a public spokesperson, responsible for providing accurate information and education to the government and Ecuador’s 14.5 million people.

Ecuador sits along a major subduction zone with a history of large underthrusting earthquakes that have produced tsunamis and damaging crustal earthquakes in the overriding plate. Given the timing of past events, there is concern that specific segments of the subduction or crustal faults, including Quito’s own one, are likely candidates for events in the near future. Yepes’ work has already shown how mitigation efforts can save lives. A group working under his direction applied its expertise to give advance warning of the eruption of Tungurahua and pyroclastic flows detection and warning at the western slopes of the volcano, including the touristic town of Baños, saving hundreds – if not thousands — of lives due to an early evacuation carried out because of his assessment.

He has been key to ensuring information is shared with other mitigation groups in South America. Since 1991, Yepes has served as Ecuador’s representative on CERSIS (Regional Center for Seismology in South America), which works to share information about geological hazards across the continent. He continues to press for better observation of seismological and volcanic phenomenon in Ecuador. Yepes’ leadership allowed more than 50 broadband stations to be installed in this small country and an additional similar and growing number of GPSs and acceleromoters, despite limited available resources.

A native of Ecuador, Yepes earned a Master’s degree in Professional Geophysics with an emphasis in Seismology from St. Louis University in 1986.

2009: Art Frankel

Photo of Art FrankelThe Frank Press Public Service Award was presented to Art Frankel at the 2010 annual meeting in Portland, OR. Since being tasked with leading an update to national seismic hazard maps for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 1993, Art Frankel has contributed significantly to improved public policy, building codes and earthquake safety across the United States.

The national seismic hazard maps that Frankel and USGS colleagues developed under his leadership were the first to be used directly in the seismic provisions of building codes. Within three years, Art had led the development of new national seismic hazard assessments based on hazard values for about 150,000 gridded sites nationwide. Frankel not only expanded the scientific methodology behind the maps, he also established and carried out essential consensus-building procedures for gathering expert opinion and feedback to ensure confidence in the process and for spurring improved communication between the seismology and engineering communities.

The national seismic hazard maps developed through Art’s efforts draw upon a wide body of results from geological research and earthquake monitoring supported by the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). The hazard maps are used as the definitive basis for seismic design maps, which are in turn used in the seismic safety elements of model building codes adopted by more than 20,000 cities, counties and communities in the US. Frankel has also further applied his research and leadership skills in developing finer scale, urban hazard maps that take into account site conditions and other local geologic features.

The work of Frankel and colleagues has provided the basis for a new standard of building codes nationwide that are promoted by FEMA and other organizations. In recent years, Frankel has turned over the reins of the national hazard project and focused on developing techniques for urban and regional seismic hazard assessments that account for soil conditions and non-linear site response, three-dimensional basin effects and fault rupture directivity. In this work he has focused, most appropriately for this meeting of the SSA, on the Seattle and Portland areas.

2008: David Wald

David Wald - Award Recipient 2008The Frank Press Public Service Award was presented to David Wald at the 2009 annual meeting in Monterey, CA. Wald serves as a research scientist at the United States Geological Survey in Golden, CO, as well as an adjunct professor at Colorado School of Mines.

Throughout his career, Wald has expanded the reach and application of seismic data through development of widely-used programs such as ShakeMap and “Did You Feel It?” In addition to furthering seismic research, Wald’s work has ensured the efficient spread of earthquake information to first responders and government officials and aided countless others touched by earthquake disasters.

Wald’s advancements have made it possible for organizations and governments to disperse resources in an effective manner and make critical decisions in the minutes following an earthquake. Until a decade ago, rapid information about damaging earthquakes was limited to magnitude and location data, neither of which was much help to the public or emergency responders. The 1994 Northridge earthquake and the 1989 National Seismic System Science Plan prompted Wald and others to create ShakeMap, a program that provides near-real-time maps of ground motion and shaking intensity following significant earthquakes

The tool has become invaluable to humanitarian responders and organizations such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, FEMA and PG&E, all of whom rely on ShakeMap data. To date, more than 70,000 individuals receive ShakeMap alerts in California, Washington, Utah, Hawaii, Nevada and Alaska.

Following the success of ShakeMap, Wald next turned his attention to rectifying the poor quality and slow production of maps of shaking intensity, which had previously been constructed from mailings to postmasters. Drawing on the power and interactivity of the Internet, Wald created, “Did You Feel It?” to help researchers gain a better understanding of what occurred during an earthquake. Members of the public log on to provide detailed observations of an earthquake experience, which is translated into maps that continuously update as information is received. Wald’s advances also have allowed researchers to reassess historical earthquakes using intensity data.

“Did You Feel It?” allows members of the public to contribute to science by turning anxiety and unease into usable scientific data. The system has been a hit not only in California but also in other less earthquake-prone areas. In 2003, an earthquake of magnitude 4.6 in Alabama brought 17,000 submissions alone. More than 1 million people across the globe have contributed observations thanks to Wald’s work.

Wald’s dedication to improving the information available to responders and the public has paid dividends in major disasters around the world. Along with Paul Earle, Wald launched the Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response (PAGER) system, which estimates the number of people subjected to levels of ground shaking within 30 minutes of an earthquake anywhere around the globe. The advancement has enabled humanitarian organizations to provide quick and appropriate responses to disasters.

PAGER includes an estimate of the impact an earthquake may have on populated areas, providing a valuable first estimate that allows organizers to know how much assistance is needed in an affected area. Previously, responders relied on reports to filter in, which could take several hours or days. PAGER was particularly useful after a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck the coastal areas of Peru in 2007. Within minutes, PAGER estimated that hundreds of thousands of people had experienced shaking and notified the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster about the severity of the earthquake and the response needed.

In addition to his public work, Wald has been a prolific researcher and mentor of students and postdoctoral fellows first at Caltech, and now at the Colorado School of Mines where he is an adjunct professor. His research also is widely cited by seismologists around the world. The Science Citation’s 1993-2003 compilation of most cited authors in earthquake science ranked Wald sixth in the world out of 9,000 authors from 100 countries included in the survey.


2005: Frank Press

Frank PressTo honor his lifetime of exemplary public service, the SSA Board has awarded the Society's first Public Service Award to Frank Press, a Director of the Washington Advisory Group in Washington, D.C.

Prof. Press began as a seismologist at Columbia (PhD 1949) and joined the faulty of CalTech in 1955. Three years later he was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences for his scientific contributions in a number of areas including earthquake seismology, seismic-wave propagation, crust and mantle structure, and lunar constitution. He became Director of the CalTech Seismo Lab in 1957, and in 1965 he moved to MIT as Chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics.

Recognition of Prof. Press's scientific leadership soon led to calls for public service, which he answered, joining President Kennedy's Science Advisory Committee. "Between 1959 and 1963, he represented the United States at four nuclear-test ban conferences in Geneva and Moscow, where seismological monitoring of atomic tests was a key issue. In this assignment he showed consummate skill in handling critical negotiations with formidable adversaries," stated Milton Dobrin.

Prof. Press served as the nation's Science Advisor and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) under President Carter from 1977 to 1980. According to Don Kennedy, Editor of Science Magazine and head of the FDA under Carter, "Frank continued the tradition of strong interaction between President's Science Advisor and the Office of Management and Budget in constructing sound science budgets. Unlike some other Science Advisors, Frank maintained good access to the President and at the same time maintained strong ties and interaction with the science community."

Immediately following his tenure as Carter's Science Advisor, Prof. Press served from 1981-1993 as President of the National Academy of Sciences and Chairman of their operating arm, the National Research Council. Prof. Press is only one of twenty National Academy presidents in the Academy's 152 year history and the only seismologist. He is the only American to have served as both a Presidential Science Advisor and President of the NAS. As President of the NAS, Prof. Press put considerable effort into strengthening the reputation and visibility of the NAS in its mandated role to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters.

During his tenure leading the Academy, Press spoke out on the need for improved science education in the United States and on a number of science policy issues including non-proliferation and better public understanding of science. To draw attention to the value of science research to the nation, he led an effort to define (and hence be able to track) the Federal investment in science. The Federal Science and Technology (FS&T) budget concept was later adopted by OMB in their analyses and thus provided a basis for a national dialog on this investment. Prof. Press worked to be sure that the U.S. scientific enterprise could fund large-scale collaborative research efforts --such as mapping the human genome—and at the same time maintaining strong funding for creative "individual investigator" research programs.

Throughout his career Prof. Press has championed the development and application of seismology to the pressing problems of humanity. He played key leadership roles in the establishment of numerous highly successful programs including the International Geophysical Year, the World Wide Standardized Seismographic Network, National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program and the International Decade for Natural Hazard Reduction.

During his long career of scientific leadership and public service, Prof. Press remained committed to science education. He has authored some of the most popular introductory Earth Science college texts in the country, "Earth" (1974, 1986 with Siever), and "Understanding Earth" with Siever, (1998, 2000, 2002) and with additional coauthors, Grotzinger and Jordan, (2003).

The reach of Prof. Press's international impact is indicated by his election to fellowship in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Society (London), the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Academie des Sciences (France). His awards include:

  • the U.S. National Medal of Sciences (1994), the Nation's highest honor for scientific achievement "For his contributions to the understanding of the deepest interior of the earth and the mitigation of natural disasters, and his service in academia, as a government official, and at the National Academy of Sciences."
  • the Vannevar Bush Award in 1994 given each year since 1980 by the National Science Foundation to persons who contributed most "toward the welfare of mankind and the nation".
  • the Pupin Medal from Columbia University in 1993, recognizing "distinguished service to the nation in science and education."
  • the Japan Prize from the Emperor in 1993 for his contributions to the "development of modern seismology and advancement of international cooperation in disaster science."

Prof. Press remains involved and engaged in the national scientific enterprise to this day. Recognizing the value in understanding earth deformational processes and the potential for a predictive capability, Prof. Press was an early and effective advocate for deployment of a dense array of continuous GPS recorders in a seismically hazardous region. The resulting 250-station Southern California Integrated GPS Network (SCIGN) served as the prototype for EarthScope's Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO), and significantly, it allowed the U.S. to remain on the cutting edge in taking advantage of new space-based technologies.

In view of his lifelong service to the people of the United States and the world, Frank Press is a fitting recipient for the first Public Service Award of the SSA.

Last Modified: 2015 Jan 23