Seismologists worry shutdown will cripple earthquake response

SEATTLE -- Scientists at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network worry prolonged federal government shutdown could lead to serious consequences if there's an earthquake or volcanic eruption.

One third of the lab's staff are employees of the US Geological Survey, the federal agency responsible for much of the data used to pinpoint earthquakes.

Seismologists say several key reporting stations and data supplied by the USGS are either broken or offline and can't be read by scientists around the world because federal employees that can fix the issues have been furloughed.

"At the moment we are quite nervous because we don't feel we can respond like people expect us to," said John Vidale, Director of Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

Located on the campus of the University of Washington, the PNSN lab has been the center point for real time seismic data for everyone, especially for first responders.

"Without the data, it would be catastrophic in terms of a response," said Doug Gibbons, a UW Research Scientist Assistant working in the lab.

"Not all of our equipment is working, there are things we would like to do at the moment but we have to wait until federal government starts up again," said Vidale. "We'll be more and more crippled the longer this goes on."

The PNSN monitors a network of 400 western Washington seismic sensors, many located in or near the Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks. All national parks and national forest lands are closed to the public during the shutdown, and that closure goes for seismologists.

"We need to work with the federal government people to work and maintain our equipment," Vidale said.

Users of the USGS website will run into a warning and disclaimer that says information on the site may be compromised or unavailable because of the government shutdown.

Fortunately for the northwest, the PNSN is operated by state employees is not funded directly by the federal government. It continues to operate even though it's doing so at a diminished capacity.

"We are just hoping nothing serious happens in the earthquake or volcano world until government figures out how to run again," Vidale said.