Harley M. Benz, a former U.S. Geological Survey technical coordinator for the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) and the director of the USGS National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) is honored with the 2024 Frank Press Public Service Award.
Benz is recognized for his work leading to profound improvements in how earthquake science is communicated to students, the media and decision makers.
In his nomination of Benz for the award, Gavin Hayes, senior science advisor for earthquake and geologic hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey, noted the significant impact of Benz’ leadership and guidance in monitoring and characterizing earthquakes worldwide, his effective engagement and outreach, and “his research directed toward advancing the U.S. Geological Survey mission to enhance situational awareness and improve the scope and timeliness of earthquake information in support of earthquake response.”
Benz also played a key role in the development of ANSS and the modernization of earthquake operations within the participating seismic networks, after co-authoring “An Assessment of Seismic Monitoring in the United States,” the 1999 Congressional Report that led to the formation and funding of the ANSS. The success of ANSS was due in no small part due to Benz’ ability to engender trust and respect from the regional network operators who were essential to the program’s success, according to the commendations from his colleagues.
Benz is credited with helping to modernize USGS earthquake analyses, reporting procedures and facilities, in particular revising the data processing and operations at NEIC to become less labor intensive and more automated. Under his leadership, rapid notifications, web services and data feeds became routine as ways to rapidly disseminate earthquake information to government agencies, emergency managers, the media and the general public. NEIC now processes continuous data from more than 2,200 seismic stations contributed by more than 145 seismic networks across the globe.
Benz’ use of innovative communication products, especially ArcGIS StoryMaps, demonstrate his commitment to sharing earthquake science. The use of story maps to place complex events into tectonic and seismological context so that they are understandable to a broad audience has been equally groundbreaking in classrooms and newsrooms, according to Benz’ colleagues. (The story map created for the 2023 Kahramanmaraş, Turkey, earthquake sequence is one such example.)
Along with his mentorship of dozens of graduate students, postdoctoral students and early career scientists, Benz forged a number of international partnerships during his time at USGS. He aided in the development of the Caribbean and N4 networks and expansion of the Global Seismographic Network, and expanded ties with the nuclear test ban treaty monitoring community that analyzes global seismic signals through the International Monitoring System (IMS). High-quality digital data from each of these networks is now available in real-time for NEIC, as a result of his efforts.