Ohio earthquake research funds cut

By Thomas J. Sheeran The Associated Press

CLEVELAND – The $27,000 annual federal grant to pay the coordinator of Ohio’s earthquake monitoring was cut in half yesterday and faces elimination next year, leaving the future of the 25-station quake sensing network in jeopardy.

Michael C. Hansen, part-time coordinator of the Ohio Seismic Network, told The Associated Press that he was informed last week by the U.S. Geological Survey, which monitors earthquakes around the globe, that the agency was directing its resources to higher earthquake risk states like California.

Ohio’s monitoring network was launched in 1999 based on a USGS seismic risk map showing Ohio has one of the most active earthquake zones east of the Mississippi River.

Ohio’s most recent big quake hit northeast Ohio 20 years ago, measuring 5.0 but causing no serious damage or injuries.

The cut in the grant means a $13,500 pay cut for Hansen, who plans to keep the coordinator’s job for now. He said he had made no decision regarding his future.

William Leith, who coordinates the USGS Advanced National Seismic System, said the cut reflected a reallocation to higher-risk areas such as the West Coast. The single monitoring station USGS has in Ohio should provide sufficient data to promptly locate and determine the magnitude of any earthquake in the state, he said.

The Ohio Seismic Network located eight earthquakes in Ohio in the past year, none damaging. Seven were in the region northeast of Cleveland and adjacent offshore Lake Erie.

The network relies on volunteer monitoring stations, many of them located at schools and college campuses. The information is analyzed by Hansen, a retired geologist who often is the news media’s first contact to confirm a quake, its location and severity.

If no one wants to coordinate the monitoring, the entire network would be in jeopardy, said Robert J. Bartolotta, co-manager of the seismic station at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, part of the statewide network.

Smaller, lightly staffed station operations rely on Hansen to locate earthquakes based on seismic data and to remind them to keep equipment synchronized and make other checks like voltage to assure accurate readings, Bartolotta said.

The Ohio Division of Geological Survey and state Sen. Timothy J. Grendell, a Chesterland Republican whose district includes the Lake County quake zone northeast of Cleveland, said efforts were underway to find new money sources.

Grendell, who remembers his Cleveland office tower swaying in the earthquake 20 years ago, said he had just learned about the grant cut and was writing to U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Ohio, to try to find an alternative funding source. LaTourette aide Deborah Setliff said the congressman’s office was checking with the USGS on the issue.

The network has improved awareness of the earthquake threat in Ohio, according to Grendell, who said people since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are edgy about unexplained shaking. The Perry nuclear power plant in Lake County adds importance to earthquake monitoring, he said.

Dennis Hull, assistant chief of the state Geological Survey, which helps coordinate the network, said the agency was looking into other money sources, including whether to tap a tax imposed on earthquake insurance policies written in Ohio. Nothing has been finalized, he said.

Hansen said his role differed from the various station operators because he analyzes seismic readings from around the state.