ABSTRACT

When earthquake swarms catch public attention, seismologists face a difficult communication challenge. On the one hand, they do not want to create unnecessary anxiety, because most swarms eventually die off, but at the same time, they know that these events could also be foreshocks to a larger, possibly damaging, earthquake. What then should a seismologist say that will remain within the scope of science to assist the public and community leaders to make appropriate choices? Probabilistic statements are scientifically verifiable but provide little comfort to anxious people and, for most citizens, give no guidance about whether they should or should not prepare for an earthquake. We are proponents of actions that allow individuals, families, and communities to acquire a sense of control that encourages individual and collective efficacy—a key element of fostering resilience in times of high anxiety. Seismologists can help foster resilience by capitalizing on windows of opportunity when people are inclined to pay attention to the scientists’ message and to take action based upon practical and credible information. Making the most of a window of opportunity will also improve the likelihood of an appropriate response if an event does occur. We believe that the public is ready to accept the limitations of the Earth Sciences (such as the inability to make definite predictions), especially if the guidance is reasonable, comforting, makes logical sense, and is conveyed with compassion. Based on these premises, we propose a message that should form the basis of press releases, webpage content, Tweets, etc., for seismologists who communicate with the public to use during earthquake swarm periods.

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