John R. Filson

2010 Edward A. Flinn III Award Winner

John R. Filson received the Edward A. Flinn III Award at the 2010 AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 15 December 2010 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors an “individual who personifies the Union’s motto ‘unselfish cooperation in research’ through their facilitating, coordinating, and implementing activities.”


Throughout his career, John R. Filson has been dedicated to the reduction of the risk earthquakes pose to the millions of Americans living in earthquake hazard zones. His selfless leadership of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (-NEHRP) at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) expanded the scope and impact of hazards research and applications within USGS; with university partners in cooperation with other NEHRP agencies; and in countries around the world.

For over 3 decades he played the critical leadership role in guiding the USGS earthquake and volcano research programs during a period of profound change as they matured scientifically and evolved to better meet societal needs while maintaining high scientific standards.

John was instrumental in establishing the U.S. National Seismic Network, transforming the Worldwide Standardized Seismographic Network (WWSSN) of the 1960s to the modern Global Seismographic Network (GSN); creating the Parkfield, Calif., earthquake experiment; and expanding earthquake and volcano hazards monitoring nationwide. He also played key leadership roles in negotiations with the former Soviet Union and with China that led to deployment of open seismograph stations in those countries and vigorous collaborative scientific research programs with them. He has carefully guided the development of these modern data sources for multiuse applications in fundamental research and applications in national and global earthquake reporting and nuclear test monitoring.

In the late 1990s, John recognized that the antiquated condition of the U.S. earthquake monitoring infrastructure was a key impediment to improving our understanding of the location and severity of future earthquakes and to the development of better seismic building codes and emergency management plans. To address this need, he spearheaded the development of the plan for an Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) and shepherded this plan through the labyrinth of the federal budget formulation and congressional authorization and appropriation processes. ANSS received over $19 million in America Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds that are rapidly fulfilling John’s vision of a national seismic infrastructure for seismological and engineering research and earthquake emergency response.

As a manager, John’s dedication has remained first and foremost to growing and nurturing the earthquake hazards program to best serve the needs of the nation and the world. He always trusted the scientists’ judgment in their choice of research topics and did an amazing job of shielding his staff from what seemed, at times, like ridiculous and never–ending bureaucratic dictates.

Since “retiring” in 2004, John has assisted the National Institute of Standards and Technology in assuming lead-agency responsibility for the NEHRP program and coauthored the NEHRP strategic plan. Today John continues to serve USGS as an advisor, particularly at the National Earthquake Information Center, where he has helped develop performance standards and planning documents during a period of rapid transition to 24/7 operations and greatly expanded responsibilities. In summary, John richly deserves the 2010 Edward A. Flinn III Award for his unselfish leadership in building and strengthening earthquake research infrastructure, expanding its funding base, and broadening its societal impact.

—WILLIAM L. ELLSWORTH and WAYNE THATCHER, Earthquake Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif.


It is a great honor for me to receive the AGU Flinn Award, an honor enhanced by my having known and worked with Ted Flinn early in my career.

Anyone who has ever held a position in science management knows that nothing substantial is accomplished by oneself acting alone. It takes the cooperation and commitment of others who are willing to devote their energies and intellects to common causes. For more than 30 years it has been my great good fortune to work with many such gifted individuals. I owe so much to so many that a list of their names would fill several pages, and if I chose to recognize a few in this response I would appear to be neglecting many others.

Let me just say that in my years with the USGS’s Earthquake Hazards Program I have benefited from the advice and support of scientists within USGS and others in academia, at state and federal agencies, and in the private sector. I was blessed by associations with exceptional scientists and capable technical specialists at USGS offices at Menlo Park, Calif.; Golden, Colo.; and Albuquerque, N. M. Many of these individuals not only made lasting scientific contributions but also, whenever I asked, served selflessly in management and coordination roles within the earthquake program.

I am indebted to many individuals who continue to be crucial to the development of our national earthquake monitoring capability over the past 30 years. The contributions of these scientists are often hidden behind the data and products of national and regional data centers, but I know these results rest on their intellects, insights, and sense of duty. Similarly, I am grateful for the contributions many scientists made to hazard assessments and earthquake probability forecasts, contributions that are often virtually anonymous. To those in USGS administrative, support, and technical staffs, whose work falls into the sine qua non category: Thank you.

Many distinguished scientists from the external academic community have helped by serving on advisory committees and evaluation councils and were invaluable in their guidance and hard work on behalf of the program. You know you must be doing something right when individuals of such high caliber agree to participate and contribute on a pro bono basis. I thank the state geological surveys, particularly that of California, that were a continuous source of good will and cooperation in joint work.

The breadth and quality of the support I have witnessed over the years reinforces my view that science alone is beautiful, but science applied to societal needs is sublime.

I would like to thank my citationists, Bill Ellsworth and Wayne Thatcher, who, as they have over many years, continue to make me look good.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Anne, who, through long periods of absence during travel and other periods of disappointment and doubt, never failed in her support, understanding, and love.

—JOHN FILSON, Earthquake Hazards Program, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Va.