Lucile Jones

U.S. Geological Survey

2015 Ambassador Award Winner

Charles R. Chappell, Lucile Jones, and Gordon McBean were awarded the 2015 Ambassador Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 16 December 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. The award is in recognition for “outstanding contributions to the following area(s): societal impact, service to the Earth and space community, scientific leadership, and promotion of talent/career pool.”


Dr. Lucile “Lucy” Jones is an extraordinary public servant who has devoted her path–breaking career to reducing the threats of natural hazards in southern California, across the nation, and around the world. Since joining the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1983, Lucy has made outstanding research contributions and provided significant scientific leadership to the nation. She rose rapidly through the scientific ranks in recognition of her research on earthquake occurrence probability, which to this day forms the basis for all earthquake advisories issued by the state of California.

Since then, Lucy has expanded the scope of her research into the realm of risk and vulnerability studies to improve knowledge transfer across multiple natural hazards. She has led the development of scenarios that have made catastrophic hazards real to the people of California and in doing so sparked a science–based approach to earthquake preparedness that now involves tens of millions of people worldwide. She has successfully built strong partnerships with engineers, social scientists, biologists, geographers, public health doctors, emergency managers, and public officials to design scenarios that are among the most visible and highly used products to come out of the USGS.

Most recently, Lucy led a USGS cooperative project with the city of Los Angeles in which she served as the science adviser for seismic safety to Mayor Eric Garcetti. The results of this collaboration include a consensus approach to improving building safety, a comprehensive program to strengthen the water infrastructure in the city, and convening stakeholders in the state’s utilities to address the vulnerabilities posed by utilities crossing the San Andreas Fault.

Lucy is widely recognized as an authoritative voice on natural hazards and disaster risk reduction. When earthquakes strike, the world’s major media outlets turn to her for answers, and time and again, she has seized the teachable moment to the benefit of all. Lucy’s skill in communicating with reporters and connecting with the public—including the many thousands who follow her on Twitter—has made her one of the most trusted scientists in America. Lucy Jones is truly an ambassador for science in service to society and a worthy recipient of this award.

—David Applegate, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Va.


I am honored to receive the Ambassador Award and am grateful to David Applegate and other colleagues at the USGS for nominating me. One cannot be an ambassador without a home country to represent and I am proud the USGS has been my intellectual home for 32 years and of its commitment to science in the public service.

I began work in seismology while a graduate student at MIT, using my undergraduate degree in Chinese Language and Literature to study the Haicheng earthquake. I came to realize that the Chinese need for prediction to save lives was so large and the cost of a false alarm in an agrarian economy was so small that they could use the probability gain of an earthquake swarm to act at a much lower level of certainty than would be possible in the United States. In other words, the decision to act required economic and social information as well as seismologic information. This led to a career in earthquake statistics, to try to bring seismology to the people with the information to understand the impact of the predictions.

However, as we progressed in our ability to deliver probabilities, we discovered how few people actually understand them. I am grateful to the USGS for the opportunity to explore other approaches to explaining risk, including the ShakeOut, ARkStorm and SAFRR Tsunami Scenarios. That this path would eventually lead to a full year in Los Angeles City Hall is as astonishing to me as to anyone. Along the way, I have discovered that the scientist’s boredom with solved problems and our need to express, quantify, and generally live in uncertainty often leads us to tell our potential partners what we don’t know, rather than fulfill their need to understand what we do know. I also found that the stories of the scenarios and an understanding of the individual impacts of collective decisions helped bring our community together to finally address the risk.

Most support for our research comes from government, from the public purse, because people want the results.  Especially as Earth scientists, much of our research could lead to a safer, more prosperous future, but only if it is used. I believe we have an obligation to ensure that the results of our research are not just heard, but understood by those who entrusted with the decisions that can protect our society and our environment.

—Lucy Jones, U.S. Geological Survey, Pasadena, Calif.