Exciting news! We're transitioning to the Statewide California Earthquake Center. Our new website is under construction, but we'll continue using this website for SCEC business in the meantime. We're also archiving the Southern Center site to preserve its rich history. A new and improved platform is coming soon!

A Tribute to Mark Benthien on his 25th Anniversary at SCEC

In the winter of 1996, Jill Andrews (then the Director of the SCEC Education and Outreach Program) was searching for an assistant to work with her in the program. Jill and Mark Benthien met at a recent meeting where Jill learned of Mark’s strong background in Earth Sciences (Mark had previously worked with SCEC on the LARSE project in 1994.) and was impressed by his eagerness to be involved in SCEC education and outreach activities. She believed he was the right person for the position she wanted to add to the SCEC Education and Outreach Program.

In early February of 1996 Jill contacted SCEC Director Tom Henyey and Associate Director John McRaney (who were in New Zealand working on a project to image the Alpine Fault). Jill made an impressive case that she had found the right person for her staff and needed a way to hire Mark. Tom and John agreed that Jill needed help ASAP and found the funds to hire Mark. Mark began his tenure with SCEC on March 4, 1996, 25 years ago today.

Mark’s success at SCEC was quickly recognized by management and, when Jill left the center at the end of 1999, Mark was promoted to head the SCEC Education and Outreach program. The program has greatly expanded during Mark’s tenure and he now holds the position of Associate Director for Communications, Education, and Outreach.

Mark was recognized in 2012 by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for his role in managing the California ShakeOut and also supporting the many other states and countries who now participate (68 million participants in 70 countries worldwide in 2019).

To recognize this milestone for Mark at SCEC, we would like to highlight some of the major initiatives and accomplishments of Mark’s 25 year tenure. Many of the accomplishments have been met on his own merit and origins and, assisted by the remarkable staff he has assembled, the SCEC CEO program has advanced and expanded these activities.

Finally, we close with a personal tribute to Mark from former SCEC Director Thomas Jordan.

Major Initiatives and Accomplishments

SCEC summer undergraduate research experience in 1998, intern program led by Mark Benthien.

Student Education: Throughout his tenure at SCEC, Mark has been a strong advocate for providing transformative student education experiences. Under his leadership, SCEC’s internships (SURE, UseIT, SOURCES and others) have provided valuable research experiences for hundreds of students that would otherwise not be exposed to geoscience education or career pathways. True to his values, Mark has led several initiatives and forged partnerships that demonstrate a true commitment to diversity, equity and inclusivity for students pursuing an education in earthquake science.

Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills: Through his tireless efforts in promotion and pursuit of partnerships around the country and the globe, what started as a one-time regional drill in southern California grew into a worldwide phenomenon, with the third Thursday in October designated as International ShakeOut Day. Within ten years of its inception, the ShakeOut earthquake drill had expanded to all U.S. states and territories, and had garnered millions of participants in dozens of countries, including official nationwide drills in New Zealand and Japan. The impact of the drill on worldwide earthquake preparedness continues to grow and all of this is coordinated from the offices of Communication, Education, and Outreach at the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC), under Mark's direction. His orchestration of the drill and its many facets has earned him the informal title "Mr. ShakeOut."

Mark Benthien addresses the media at The Great California ShakeOut media event in 2012.

Earthquake Preparedness, Mitigation, and Response: SCEC has been fortunate to have Mark’s sustained passion and expertise for earthquake preparedness and mitigation, rooted in SCEC’s earthquake research programs, partner input and advocacy, and federal and state initiatives. It is rare to find someone with a long-standing, unwavering commitment, but that is exactly what SCEC found in Mark as he helped lead the way and find sources of funding to advance earthquake resilience from the local to the global level.

Mark’s beginnings at SCEC might have seemed small as he shuffled Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country handbooks into boxes for shipping, but he clearly had higher goals for bigger and better programs, such as Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills, the Earthquake Country Alliance, TsunamiZone.org, and Terremotos.org.

Earthquake Country Alliance: The SCEC CEO program’s primary structure for creating partnerships and engaging in community outreach throughout California is the Earthquake Country Alliance. This public-private grassroots partnership of more than 3,000 people engages organizations, communities and households across the state to improve earthquake and tsunami preparedness, mitigation and resilience. ECA was created in Southern California in 2003 when Mark brought together partners from many organizations to organize activities in advance of the 10th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake, and then continued to develop new materials and outreach activities for several years. Then in 2008, ECA and its many partners created the Great Southern California ShakeOut regional drill based on the USGS-led ShakeOut scenario of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the southernmost San Andreas fault. More than 5.4 million southern Californians participated in what was planned as a one-time event. With the expansion of ShakeOut statewide in 2009 (now in its 12th year and part of a global network of ShakeOut drills), ECA became a statewide coalition now comprised of regional alliances in Southern California, the Bay Area, and a newly formed regional alliance in the Central Coast. ECA also partners with the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group as part of the statewide network of regional alliances. ECA has statewide sector-based committees and outreach bureaus which focus on different areas of the community including healthcare, public sector, businesses, and higher education audiences. Statewide sector-based committees are now expanding to encompass more diversity and encourage inclusion from a wide variety of participants.

From Thomas Jordan, SCEC Director (2002-2017)

Hail to Mark Benthien, who celebrates his 25th year of service to the SCEC Community! I was very happy when asked by John McRaney to provide some input to this tribute, because it gave me good cause to revisit Mark’s illustrious and well-documented history. I first got to know Mark through his contributions to LARSE, SCIGN, and the SCEC E&O effort. One of my first accomplishments as SCEC director was to convince him to become SCEC’s Associate Director of a revamped Communication, Education and Outreach (CEO) program. He has excelled for 19 years in this important leadership role, from SCEC2 all the way through SCEC5.

His efforts, and those of the many experts he recruited, elevated the CEO program into the stratosphere of recognition, first across California and then around the globe. His accomplishments and impact are marked by a plethora of acronyms that encode some outstanding organizational successes; notable among them are ECA, Roots, ShakeOut, SURE, UseIT, E3, EPIcenters, and QCN. Over many years, Mark has supervised an amazing array of activities: national and international earthquake drills, a wide range of student intern programs, web-based education tools, classroom curricula, museum displays, public information brochures, online newsletters, and technical workshops and publications.

His accomplishments as the leader of the SCEC/CEO program have been uniformly praised throughout the extensive reviews that SCEC receives annually and especially during the external SCEC renewal process every five years. And, of course, we all remember with considerable pride when he received White House recognition as a “Champion of Change” in January 2012.

No doubt, however, Mark’s most enduring achievement has been his systematic development of a multi-disciplinary community of voices, now nationwide and international, devoted to informing the public about how to deal with earthquake hazard and risk. Owing to his efforts, the public is better equipped to counter the earthquake threat.

Mark, Please accept my congratulations on your outstanding SCEC career!