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Who is Lucy Jones? Meet the Caltech seismologist called ‘the earthquake lady’

“Get under the table!” Video captures 7.1 earthquake

This video shows Ridgecrest residents quickly finding shelter as a quake shakes their home. A 7.1 earthquake hit near Ridgecrest, California on July 5,2019.
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This video shows Ridgecrest residents quickly finding shelter as a quake shakes their home. A 7.1 earthquake hit near Ridgecrest, California on July 5,2019.

Her moniker — “the earthquake lady” — says it all.

Lucy Jones, a California Institute of Technology seismologist, has been in the spotlight after two large Mojave Desert earthquakes and their aftershocks rocked California from Los Angeles to Sacramento in the past two days — first a 6.4-magnitude quake on July 4, and then a larger 7.1-magnitude tremor the next day.

“I’m everybody’s mother,” Jones said, according to a 2012 profile in Smithsonian magazine. “Women are more reassuring after an event.”

Jones has been briefing reporters and the public in the aftermath of the quakes, providing expertise, reassurance and preparedness tips. Her knowledge was on display Friday night when, as she spoke to reporters about the day’s quake and aftershocks, she noticed an alert that an aftershock was on its way, KABC reported.

“We have an earthquake that’s already begun up north, just slightly northwest, of the main shock,” Jones said nearly 30 seconds before the shaking began.

And right on time, the quake hit.

“There it is,” Jones said as the shaking started, adding that everyone should “remember that the people in Ridgecrest are going through a lot worse than this.”

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Jones has been sharing her quake wisdom with her more than 100,000 Twitter followers in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes.

Those messages — which include statistics on the probability of bigger quakes and tidbits that amount to Earthquake 101 — have been retweeted and liked thousands of times in recent days.

Jones is a 33-year veteran of the U.S. Geological Survey and has been a research associate at Caltech since 1984, according to a biography on her website. Jones is a graduate of Brown University, where she studied Chinese language and literature, and holds a Ph.D. in geophysics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Her biography says she “has been active in earthquake research for decades, furthering earthquake risk reduction through seismological research and integrated disaster scenarios.”

One of Jones’ big contributions to the field was finding that there’s a statistical method to predict if a tremor is the main

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event or merely a foreshock. She explained in a 1985 paper that “the probability that an earthquake will trigger a bigger one does not depend on the magnitude of the first earthquake but instead is related to its location and interaction with fault systems,” Smithsonian reported.

But Jones isn’t just interested in the quakes themselves.

“Lucy brings magnetism to what is normally a dull subject: preparedness,” American Red Cross of Greater Los Angeles CEO Paul Schulz said, per Smithsonian.

While working at the Geological Survey, Jones developed the U.S.’s first large-scale earthquake drill, called “the Great ShakeOut,” which “has expanded to now encompass 55 million participants around the world in 2016,” her biography said.

Jones’ seismic research has looked into the probability of quakes and aftershocks, which has informed California’s warning systems, according to her website.

That expertise has made Jones a staple of U.S. Geological Survey and Caltech press conferences on earthquakes, as well as a much-cited expert in news reports.

“She has the bearing of your terrific next-door neighbor who takes superb care of her window boxes. And yet she is as learned as anyone in the field,” former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams said of Jones, who he frequently interviewed for her seismological knowledge, according to Smithsonian magazine.

Jones’ latest updated might not be welcome news to those fearing the recent quakes are a precursor to an even bigger one.

“There’s about a 1 in 10 chance that we could have another 7 in this sequence,” Jones said, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday.

FEMA explains what you should do before an earthquake happens and when it occurs in an animated video called "When The Earth Shakes."

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.

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