Eastern Section History and Recent Incorporation

easternfrom Seismological Research LettersVol. 80, No. 2, May/June 2009

By David W. Eaton,
President, Eastern Section of the SSA

On Monday, October 6, 2008, the members of the Eastern Section of the Seismological Society of America who were in attendance at its annual scientific meeting in Kingston, Canada, voted unanimously in support of motions to adopt a modern set of bylaws and become incorporated in the State of California as a nonprofit organization. Together with a formal affiliation agreement with the Seismological Society of America (SSA), this marked the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship between the Eastern Section and its parent organization. Unlike for-profit corporations, there is no particular advantage of one state over another for incorporation. Since the Eastern Section is governed by rotating officers and does not have a permanent staff and headquarters, California was chosen because that is where the SSA is located. With the execution of the articles of incorporation on 9 December 2008, I now find myself in the unusual position (particularly after my recent relocation to western Canada) of being president of a California-based organization whose membership base is primarily (but not exclusively) in the eastern United States and Canada.

The Eastern Section has a distinguished history that extends back more than 80 years. It was founded in 1926 as the first (and only) section of the SSA, largely through the pioneering efforts of Father James B. Macelwane of Saint Louis University, along with Ernest Hodgson of the Dominion Observatory, Ottawa and Commander Nicholas Heck of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. The story, perhaps apocryphal, holds that the section was formed on January 2, 1926, on a street in front of Saint Louis University, where Father Macelwane presented Hodgson and Heck with a letter from the SSA authorizing formation of the Eastern Section by a minimum of three interested persons. The section was formed promptly thereafter to meet the interests and needs of a growing number of seismologists in eastern North America, due to the practical reality that travel to California, where the SSA held most of its meetings, was both costly and difficult at that time.

The first meeting of the Eastern Section took place on May 1, 1926, at Carnegie Institution of Washington. Bailey Willis, president of the SSA, opened the meeting with the following remarks:

"It is with profound satisfaction that I welcome the Eastern Section to its place as an important, I might say vital, organ of the Society. Its area covers the regions of denser population and the greater number of centers of concentrated life and property in the United States and Canada. Through it, the Society thus comes to function actively in those regions where the earthquake risk is greatest, though perhaps not most immediate. Your task will be to educate these growing communities to the fact that they can safeguard themselves against inevitable future shocks, provided they promote the study of earthquakes and the adoption of those measures of safety which are already recognized by seismologists and engineers, or which may be developed."

Subsequent annual meetings of the Eastern Section were held in 1927 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at the University of Virginia. The section has continued to convene a scientific meeting almost every year since then, with the exception of a brief hiatus during World War II. In the early years of the Eastern Section, full scientific proceedings of these meetings appeared in Earthquake Notes, a venerable publication that was first produced in 1929 and renamed Seismological Research Letters in 1987.

The history of the Eastern Section is strongly linked to the Jesuit Seismological Association (JSA). Originally named the Jesuit Seismological Service, the JSA operated a network of seismograph stations in the United States beginning in 1900 at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. Since the middle of the 19th century the Jesuits have operated as many as 40 geophysical observatories around the world, of which 10 became part of the 125-station global World Wide Standard Seismograph Network in 1962. Although it may seem unusual that a religious order such as the Jesuits dedicated so much effort to seismology, this is part of a strong tradition of science and education that dates back to formation of the Jesuit movement during the 16th century. In 1989, the JSA approached the Eastern Section with an offer to fund the establishment of an award to honor outstanding contributions to observational seismology. The JSA Award has been conferred annually by the Eastern Section since 1991 and bears with it a plaque and a small monetary prize.

Needless to say, the world has seen many changes since the 1920s. A legal analysis undertaken by the SSA in 2007 concluded that the society faced potential liability because of its recognition of the Eastern Section in its bylaws, which require section members to also be society members. In order to protect the SSA, the section, and their officers, the analysis recommended incorporation of the Eastern Section, so as to form a separate legal entity. Acting upon these recommendations, the Executive Committee of the Eastern Section brought a motion forward to the membership, resulting in the present organization as a not-for-profit corporation. The scientific focus of the Eastern Section remains largely the same as it did in 1926, although it has broadened beyond a strict geographical emphasis on eastern North America to include, more generally, the science of intraplate earthquakes and societal issues related thereto. For example, recent annual meetings of the Eastern Section have included special themes such as seismic design provisions for the nuclear industry and mining- induced seismicity.

More information about the Eastern Section, including its history, JSA medalists, and forthcoming scientific meetings, can be found on the Seismological Society of America’s Web site at https://www.seismosoc.org/inside/eastern-section/.