Captivated By a Career That “Rocks”

Janis Hernandez has loved the outdoors since the camping trips of her childhood. And when she took a geology course in the early ’90s, she realized she had found her calling.

Alumni Janis Hernandez posed at the site of an earthquake near Ridgecrest.

In July 2019, two earthquakes struck California's Mojave Desert near Ridgecrest. Janis Hernandez (BS ’95), was the first CGS Geologist on-site after the first earthquake on July 4th.

“I could not stop thinking about rocks after that class, and I wondered, ‘Is there something wrong with me?’” Hernandez recalls with a laugh. “Cal State Fullerton was my first choice to pursue my geology degree, and I’m so glad I attended. My applied geology coursework prepared me well for my career in both consulting geology and as an engineering geologist for the state.”

Now a senior engineering geologist for the California Geological Survey (CGS), the 1995 Cal State Fullerton alumna was honored as the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics Geological Sciences 2019 Alumni of the Year.

Serving as Geology Club president for two years while a student at Cal State Fullerton only amplified her enthusiasm and gave her confidence for future roles. Hernandez started at CGS in 2001 after earning her professional geologist license. She was promoted to acting senior engineering geologist in 2017 and the permanent position in 2018.

Hernandez has been involved in a wide range of fascinating projects in her career. These have included mapping debris flow inundation after the Thomas Fire in Montecito; guided wave seismic studies on the Santa Monica, Raymond, and Hollywood faults; and performing detailed geologic mapping of the Peninsular Ranges batholith and the Elsinore Fault Zone. Her Elsinore work involved developing positive relationships with the Native American tribes living on that land, “to help everyone with future planning, seismic hazard awareness, and emergency response.”

“My applied geology coursework prepared me well for my career in both consulting geology and as an engineering geologist for the state.”

Janis Hernandez (BS ’95)

When it comes to earthquakes, most people who’ve lived through one feel like the worst is over after the first shock hits. That wasn’t the case in July 2019, when a magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck California’s Mojave Desert near Ridgecrest on the 4th, then a magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked the area again on the 5th. Hernandez was the first CGS Geologist on-site after the July 4 earthquake. She and other scientists measured offset at one of the first reported locations, across Highway 178. The night of the July 5 quake, a team of geologists went back out to the highway at the marked location and saw no additional movement, but farther east along the highway, there was a separate set of much larger ruptures oriented perpendicular to the July 4 event.

“The Ridgecrest events included at least two dozen faults that splay off of the main fault, generally at a 30-degree angle,” she says. “The complex faulting we observed will require us to make our Earthquake Fault Zones wider.”

The Ridgecrest quakes show that small faults can join to produce a large, widespread earthquake. An earthquake affecting a smaller fault can destabilize larger ones, sparking a much stronger earthquake.

Coordinating field efforts after these complex quakes was a challenge, says Hernandez, but critical to capture important slip data from each rupture surface. These ruptures occurred in a relatively sparsely occupied location, or things would have been much worse in terms of lives lost and infrastructure damage, she adds.

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