From the Board of Directors: Recent SCEC Activities During COVID-19

Dear SCEC Community,

The dramatic changes to our society resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted many of us across the SCEC community. Our thoughts are with all of those affected by the disease, their friends and family, as well as those struggling to meet basic needs in the economic collapse that followed. Crisis, however, can also bring out the best of us, and we have all been inspired by the selfless efforts of those on the front lines – healthcare workers, first responders, and critical service providers. Moreover, the pandemic has made clear the importance of preparing for threats to our increasingly urbanized global society – a charge that is at the very heart of SCEC’s mission. Many of us have considered how to learn from the COVID-19 crisis to better assess hazards and risks posed by large earthquakes, to plan our societal response, and educate the population that these threats are real – and the consequences severe.  With this charge, the Center has continued to operate full steam over the past few months thanks to the commitment of our sponsors, the seemingly endless strength and enthusiasm of staff and leadership, and the contributions of so many of you in the broader SCEC community.

The crisis has of course brought changes to the Center. Almost all of our participating institutions have shifted to online work and instruction, the Center’s operations have gone virtual, education and outreach efforts have been modified or postponed, and some deadlines have been extended. While this has undoubtedly impacted many of our efforts, in other ways SCEC’s highly collaborative, distributed leadership and research structures have proven their resiliency.

The Science Planning Committee and Directors have completed the Collaboration Plan, which addresses a wide range of earthquake science topics through more than 110 funded project proposals. SCEC investigators have received decision notifications on their 2020 proposals, and the Center has begun distributing research support to an exciting, promising portfolio of multidisciplinary research efforts. Notably, more than 10% of funding in 2020 is going to new investigators, with seven institutions receiving SCEC funding for the first time this year. Thus, while we remain focused on reaching the milestones established for the Center, we have the ability to make this an open collaboration, where promising new ideas can be supported. NSF has also called for SCEC to assess how research progress will be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and the Directors have responded with broader input from the community using these milestones to measure such impacts. Undoubtedly, progress toward some of our science goals has been delayed – with restrictions to field work and other challenges causing delays in some efforts. However, overall the Center remains highly functional – able to pursue its science objectives through your hard – albeit more remotely distributed – efforts.

Screenshot from SCEC 2020 Leadership Retreat held via Zoom meeting.Discussion held via Zoom during 2020 SCEC Leadership Retreat in early May.

The SCEC Board – which represents all of you and your home institutions in the collaboration – also remains focused on supporting our collaboration. The Board shifted to regular online meetings many months ago – in advance of the pandemic – to ensure that it could more responsively address and support the needs of the Center, its Directors, and staff. Board efforts have involved a substantial revision to the Center’s Bylaws, which strive to make us stronger and more resilient in our leadership structure.

The Board has also established two new subcommittees - on Professional Conduct, and on Diversity & Inclusion. This represents an evolution from the Board’s effort to develop its new Activities Code of Conduct, where the Professional Conduct Committee, chaired by David Oglesby, will be charged with receiving and acting upon any reports of potential misconduct, working closely with the USC Title IX office. The Diversity and Inclusion Committee, chaired by Rowena Lowman, has a broader, forward-looking charge, aimed at assessing and recommending actions that support and broaden participation of underrepresented groups within the SCEC community and leadership positions. Together, we seek to firmly establish these goals as a value within the professional culture of SCEC. We look forward to reporting more about these committees as they begin their work in the coming months. We particularly want to extend gratitude to USC and sponsoring agencies for supporting these efforts. 

Screenshot of SCEC SOURCES webpageSCEC SOURCES webpage with student application and link to mentor survey

SCEC’s Communication, Education, and Outreach (CEO) program is also shifting many of its activities to new modes of operation. Our Experiential Learning and Career Advancement focus area will be shifting mentoring activities online, and has launched a new “remotely-mentored” internship program: Supported Opportunities for Undergraduates and Researchers to Collaborate on Earthquake Science (SOURCES). This program allows students to work from home with researchers across the country this summer (in place of our normal, in-person SURE and UseIT programs), and may also provide academic year research experience for students at institutions that do not have SCEC researchers. Please forward information about SOURCES to any potential students and also consider mentoring a student yourself (by completing the mentor survey). Our Public Education and Preparedness focus area is also adapting, with conversations underway with ShakeOut coordinators from across the country to develop guidance about how to hold distributed drills if needed this October (of course earthquakes may happen when employees or students are at home, too). Earthquake Country Alliance (ECA) leaders are developing new messaging and webinars focused on the complexities of concurrent disasters (how normal earthquake response procedures must adapt during a pandemic… or wildfire, winter storm, etc.). ECA regional workshops have moved online (view recordings here: SoCal | Bay Area), allowing many more people to participate. During this time we are also working to translate our materials into additional languages and improve their accessibility for people with disabilities. Be sure to follow SCEC on Twitter and Facebook to see new content including “this week in earthquake history” and new safety messaging.

Many in our community responded to NSF’s Dear Colleague Letter announcing plans for supporting future earthquake research centers. These have been assembled and are available at: To begin planning for the proposal to establish the next Center, the Directors led a virtual leadership meeting earlier this month, with over forty Board and Planning Committee members and staff. We have all experienced the challenges of online meetings – most severe when dealing with more than a handful of people. Nevertheless, the Leadership Meeting was highly successful in reviewing accomplishments of the past year in SCEC, and most importantly brainstorming about how to reimagine and position the Center for success in the upcoming re-competition process. We had wide ranging discussions about the geographic or tectonic “scope” of the next Center, opportunities for greater collaborations within and beyond the current SCEC community, and open discussion about exciting new themes in earthquake research.  Director Yehuda Ben-Zion has charged two committees – one on Organizational Structure and a second on Basic Science Questions of Earthquake Science – to begin working with the leadership and broader community over the coming months to establish initiatives for the next Center. Look forward to hearing updates on both of these efforts, and about ways that you can contribute ideas and perspectives. The greatest strength of SCEC is undeniably its membership, and we are going to be relying on all of you to help ensure that we have the opportunity to continue our important mission.      


John H. Shaw (Harvard), Chair of Board of Directors
Emily Brodsky (UC Santa Cruz), Vice-Chair of Board of Directors
Mark Benthien (USC), Managing Coordinator of the Board of Directors

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