COVID-19 updates
March 19, 2020

Michael West

March 19, 2020 update.    Like all of you, the Alaska Earthquake Center has quickly reconfigured to adhere to public health guidelines while trying to maintain business and operational continuity. Because three out of four earthquakes have always happened outside of working hours, the idea of coordinating our efforts away from the office is nothing new, albeit on a different scale. We are disappointed to have canceled many upcoming tsunami and earthquake forums and educational opportunities, but I believe all of you understand. In the big picture, we feel the center is well-positioned for the weeks ahead and that our core mission will not be compromised. 

Over the past three years, we have made many investments specifically to improve our continuity of operations. Recent sustained support from the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program has allowed us to strengthen our server infrastructure and ensure that everyone has the resources they need to do their job wherever they are. We have grown our ability to reroute realtime data through cloud-based services to help work around temporary telecommunications and internet disruptions. We have also developed (and used several times!) an incident response plan that makes sure we cover our responsibilities during an earthquake, regardless of who is available to respond. I am certain there will be surprises in the coming weeks. But I have well-established confidence in our team’s ability to respond to earthquake incidents of all types. 

Despite this confidence, we do have serious concerns that could impact Alaska’s earthquake readiness now and into the future. This first is our ability to maintain and repair the roughly 200 monitoring sites across the state. As we head into spring, normally we would begin the process of repairing damage accrued since last summer and performing preventative maintenance. It is our great hope that much of this work will still proceed. However, we have already had to cut early spring repair work, and we anticipate curtailing more maintenance over the next few months. This will require a heavy effort from our field team after the COVID-19 crisis has passed. At the moment, however, we do not believe this will impact the center’s ability to deliver its core products. 

Our second major concern is the center’s heavy dependence on third-party technology companies. These include: local and national telecommunications carriers who transmit data from the field; the University of Alaska OIT Data Center that houses all of our 24/7 servers and software processes; and the same big technology firms that most of you rely on. Failures in any of these systems would quickly cascade into Alaska’s earthquake monitoring. So far, however, we have been impressed by the performance, as well as the responsiveness, of these groups—especially the in-state ones!

We are committed to being transparent about our successes and shortcomings as we all navigate these waters. Do not hesitate to reach out to us on social media or email if you have questions or concerns.

Stay safe.