Cars riskier than quakes, official says

March 20, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Howard County residents are more likely to be injured getting into a car than by one of the minor earthquakes that have been nudging the county the last 10 days, County Executive Charles I. Ecker said yesterday.

Seismologist Leonardo Seeber, a research scientist from Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Geological Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., agreed. Mr. Seeber came to the county with a colleague Monday night to study the earthquakes.

"People should not be afraid, they should be interested," he said at yesterday's news conference with Mr. Ecker and Emery T. Cleaves of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "This is a phenomenon they may not experience again in a lifetime."

Mr. Seeber and fellow Lamont Doherty seismologist John G. Armbruster are tracking what Mr. Seeber calls a "swarm" of small earthquakes centered near Route 32 and U.S. 29 in Columbia.

Mr. Seeber showed reporters a seismogram of the county's seventh earthquake since March 10. The latest earthquake occurred at 12:50 a.m. yesterday, he said, registering about a 1.0 on the Richter scale.

"There is no indication that the earthquakes are precursors of anything larger, although there cannot be a 100 percent assurance of that," Mr. Cleaves said. He said scientists believe the earthquakes are related to other small earthquakes that have occurred in the area "since the beginning of history."

Mr. Seeber said he would be adding four to eight digital measuring instruments to the seven seismographs he has already placed in a one- to two-mile circle around what he believes to be the earthquakes' epicenter.

The digital equipment "is ideal for science" in that measurements can be fed into a computer and the data viewed in a variety of ways, he said, but it is not good for monitoring because the data have to be transferred to a computer. Instantaneous monitoring will still be done by seismographs, he said.

Mr. Seeber said he and Mr. Armbruster will be here several weeks to monitor the earthquakes. "They're here and still continuing," he said. "Some of these sequences last for a year. The earth is moving down there."

Mr. Ecker said he has asked the state to set up at least one long-range monitoring station in Columbia. The station would cost about $15,000, not including personnel to monitor and maintain it.

"As a scientist, it's something I would love to see," Mr. Cleaves said. "As a citizen and concerned official, I would like the earthquakes to stop."

Mr. Ecker said the county will provide information about earthquake activity on a special hot line -- 313-4461 -- and air earthquake updates on Cable 15, the county government channel. He said the hot line and updates will be provided as long as the earthquakes continue, and for a period of about two weeks past the final tremor -- whenever it occurs.

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