Walter J. Arabasz

Frank Press Public Service Award | 2015 Recipient

Walter J. Arabasz is a research professor emeritus of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. For more than 30 years, Arabasz led the development of the University of Utah’s regional seismic network and remains a powerful voice in public policy making for earthquake risk reduction. In Utah, his work has informed seismic safety policies affecting Utah’s people, built environment, and economy. He played a leading role in motivating the Utah State Legislature to create the Utah Seismic Safety Commission and in helping to build an effective state earthquake program.

In his nominations for the Press Award, several colleagues noted Arabasz’s “extraordinary public service” in the weeks following the August 6, 2007 Crandall Canyon, Utah mine disaster, which killed six miners and three rescue workers. He worked with state and national experts to help understand the seismic implications of the mine’s collapse and to improve mine safety. Arabasz was also instrumental in helping the media and the public understand the science of seismic monitoring and mining-induced seismicity as the disaster unfolded.

“Arabasz has contributed at the local, state, national, and international levels in developing effective policies to increase seismic safety and awareness. Notably, he was instrumental in the development of the Advanced National Seismic System, the premier organization in the United States for earthquake monitoring,” said Keith D. Koper, a professor of geophysics and director of the University of Utah Seismograph Stations.

The Advanced National Seismic System or ANSS provides accurate and timely information and data for U.S. seismic events by unifying national, regional, and local-scale seismic monitoring. During a 15-year period leading up to congressional authorization of the ANSS in 2000, Arabasz was a key player in laying the groundwork for and shaping the vision of the ANSS. He then worked to implement elements of the ANSS in Utah, in the Intermountain West region, and nationally. He has served on the national Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction, providing guidance and oversight to the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program.

A renowned researcher in network seismology, seismotectonics, and earthquake hazard analysis, Arabasz is the recipient of the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2007 John Wesley Powell Award, for significant contributions in advancing national earthquake monitoring and earthquake safety. Other awards include the Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology in 1996; the Western States Seismic Policy Council Lifetime Achievement Award for Earthquake Risk Reduction in 2008; and the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute’s Alfred E. Alquist Special Recognition Medal in 2015.

Arabasz received his bachelor’s degree from Boston College in 1964; his master’s degree from Caltech in 1966, and his Ph.D. in geology and geophysics from Caltech in 1971.