Two weeks ago in Italy, the L’Aquila Prosecutor’s office indicted scientists, some of them members of the “Commissione Grandi Rischi”(Commission for High Risks), and civil protection officials for manslaughter. The basis for the indictment is that these people did not provide a short-term alarm to the population after a meeting of the Commission held in L’Aquila six days before the Mw 6.3 earthquake that struck that city and the surrounding area.
The allegations against the scientists are completely unfounded. Years of research worldwide have shown that there is currently no scientifically accepted method for short-term earthquake prediction that can reliably be used by Civil Protection authorities for rapid and effective emergency actions.
The international seismological community has long recognized that the best approach to defending populations from catastrophic earthquakes is not through earthquake prediction, but through risk mitigation and the application of appropriate safety measures to prevent buildings from collapsing. In this regard, the development of seismic hazard maps, which provide estimates of the probability of occurrence of predefined values of peak ground motion in a given time period, provide the specifications required by building codes to avoid collapse of buildings and the resulting fatalities
Italy is an earthquake-prone country. An improved seismic hazard map that summarizes decades of research on earthquake occurrence and effects was completed in 2004 (see http://zonesismiche.mi.ingv.it/). It is the result of the work of many scientists, it is considered to be one of the best seismic hazard maps in Europe, and it has been used as a basis for the Italian building code beginning in 2008 (“Norme Tecniche per le Costruzioni”, GU n.29 del 04/02/2008). It should be viewed as the primary contribution of the Italian earthquake scientists to their Country.
Seismic hazard maps must also be used for conveying to the population the basic concepts of earthquake hazard, awareness, preparedness, and response. Increased consciousness of the earthquake hazard and associated risk should also foster further prevention actions by national and local authorities. Overall, earthquake preparedness and damage prevention in the form of retrofitting are not only possible but mandatory in a country affected for the most by moderate size earthquakes that often result in catastrophes for the society because of the large percentage of seismically unreinforced buildings.
Education, awareness, preparedness and retrofitting are the best tools for mitigating the impact of the catastrophic earthquakes that will inevitably affect Italy in the future.
The scientific community involved in earthquake science urges the Italian government, local authorities and decision makers in general, to be proactive in establishing and carrying out local and national programs to support earthquake preparedness and risk mitigation rather than prosecuting scientists for failing to do something they cannot do yet - predict earthquakes.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
From the website of the Italian Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Volcanologia: