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Waverly Person

Achieved Respect As Center Director

Person's climb was not an easy one, however. Along the way he encountered anger and skepticism from many sides. "Any time you're breaking ground, you've got to take a lot, do a lot," he explained in his CBB interview. "People were always asking, 'Why do you want to get into this field?' They wondered how I would do as their colleague—on the same level as they were. Anything I did that was professional or scientific, I was always expected to do better, or more. But I was one who never gave up. No matter what anyone would say, I had my goals set as to what I was going to do. Nothing was going to stop me." Today Person supervises a staff of 26. "Once you get to respectability, people don't see your color anymore," he added. "They see you as an individual who knows what you're doing, and they accept you for that."

Although the systems Person used when he first started working as a geophysicist would require days of measurement to predict an earthquake, advancements in technology now offer up-to-the-minute record keeping. Seismographs, computers, and other sophisticated instruments at the NEIC make it possible for Person and his staff to monitor earthquake activity all over the world, 24-hours a day. In the United States, even a tiny, insignificant quake can be detected, and a significant one—measuring at least 4.0 on the Richter scale—is enough to trigger an alarm system in the hall. If an earthquake occurs overseas, it must register at least 6.0 in order to be detected. No matter how sensitive the system, however, earthquakes cannot be accurately predicted, so the center relies on what it calls the Earthquake Early Alerting Service to help communities cope with the chaos and confusion that follow a significant tremor.

"The name of the game here is to try to get the earthquake located, compute the magnitude and give that location to the emergency people so that they can get into the area and start to rescue people and save lives," Person explained in Emerge. Thanks to a special hot line at the NEIC office, he and his staff are in direct communication with the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs. "We tell them what state we want to go to and they hook us up with the state emergency people immediately," he elaborated in Ebony. "The state officials then get in touch with the fire departments, hospitals, etc."

If a destructive quake occurs in a foreign country, the NEIC forwards the information they have collected directly to the United Nations, as well as to the American embassy or consulate in that country. Person carries a special paging device for emergencies—it displays the location, time, and magnitude of major quakes—and two staff members maintain a 24-hour vigil at the center.

As soon as emergency personnel have been alerted and informed, Person turns to the media for assistance. "The media is our ally," he told CBB. "They get the information out to the public. What we try to do is inform the public as much as we possibly can about earthquakes—not only in the United States, but in the world. Our society today moves, and we have a lot of Americans everywhere."

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Jan Peck Biography - Personal to David Randall (1972–) Biography - PersonalWaverly Person Biography - Worked Hard To Achieve Success, Achieved Respect As Center Director, Frequently Sought For Expert Commentary