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Waverly Person

Encouraged Minority Students To Study Earth Sciences

Although he still makes forays into the field to inspect earthquake damage, record aftershocks, and consult with emergency officials, most of Person's time is devoted to managerial work. This includes training and supervising staff, organizing the NEIC's budget, and producing hundreds of publications on earthquake activity worldwide. The center issues daily, weekly, and monthly reports on earthquakes, as well as pamphlets advising the public on what to do when a significant tremor occurs. "We have a database [at the World Data Center for Seismology] that's second to none," Person told CBB. "Builders and civil engineers want to know what kind of earthquake activity there's been in an area before they start to build dams, big buildings, and so forth." All of the publications produced by the office are available to the general public.

Discouraged by the desperate shortage of minorities in the field of geophysics and seismology, Person spends much of his time visiting middle schools and speaking with minority students about the challenges and rewards of a career in the earth sciences. In 1993 he traveled as far afield as Baltimore, Maryland, where nearly 400 students gathered to hear a presentation he gave at Dunbar Middle School. "I try to get them to understand that the easiest thing in school is not always the thing you want to do," he told CBB, "and that math and science are good no matter what field they go into. I try to stress the importance of being competitive in anything they go to do."

After several decades in the field, Waverly Person remained as fascinated by earthquake studies as he ever was. "No two earthquakes are alike," he pointed out in Emerge. "It's never a dull moment because earthquakes are occurring all over the world and we are working to find out where all the different seismic zones are. It's something that you just love to do because you continue to learn." Even on his golden anniversary of government service in 2005 Person related his love for his job, telling the Denver Post that "Well, I enjoy what I do, so it hasn't been a burden... but 50 years?" For all his years as the spokesperson for the world's worst disasters, Person had become something of a celebrity—both in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, where he is active in community affairs, and around the globe. "Everywhere I go, people know me," he told CBB. "They keep looking at me, and then they come up close and say, 'Are you the earthquake man?'"



Boys' Life, September 1997, p. 50.

Denver Post, January 14, 2005, p. B5.

Ebony, September 1987, pp. 134-38.

Emerge, April 1994, pp. 9-10.

Rocky Mountain News, March 1, 2001.

Seattle Times, February 11, 2005, p. A10.


"Experts Say Tsunami Warning System Would Have Saved Lives," Voice of America, www.voanews.com/English/2004-12-28-voz5.cfm (April 29, 2005).


Additional information for this profile was obtained from a feature story on Person aired on KCNC-TV, Denver, CO, February 16 and 23, 1994, and from an interview with Person on October 20, 1994.

—Caroline B. D. Smith and Sara Pendergast

Additional topics

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