Natural Hazards

, Volume 72, Issue 2, pp 1159–1173 | Cite as

Communicating earthquake risk to the public: the trial of the “L’Aquila Seven”

Original Paper

Abstract

The trial and conviction of seven public officials in L’Aquila, central Italy, for having allegedly given out misleading and incorrect information to the public before the 6 April 2009 earthquake has proved to be one of the most momentous developments of recent times in science and disaster risk reduction—and also one of the most misunderstood. It highlights the difficulty in transforming the findings of the earth sciences, which are often characterised by uncertainty, into information that can be used to protect ordinary citizens. This paper describes those elements of the disaster at L’Aquila which are pertinent to the trial and the legal proceedings that followed them. It analyses the political, social and scientific context of the trial, and the reaction of scientists and their institutions in Italy and other countries. I conclude that the defendants were tried as responsible public officials, not as scientists. The mass media in Italy and abroad tended to insist that what was on trial was the ability to predict earthquakes, and this had an enormous influence on the opinion of scientists in many different places. However, the trial was actually about the apparently fatal consequences of misleading the public with “incomplete, imprecise and contradictory information”, as the prosecutors put it. I believe that much of the international reaction to the trial was misguided because it was based on incomplete, second-hand information about the proceedings. If scientists were to make judgements on their own work in such a superficial manner, the results would be highly unreliable and public faith in science would plummet.

Keywords

Earthquake Disaster Warning Public information Legal proceedings Italy 

References

  1. Alexander DE et al (2011a) Summary statistical briefings. MICRODIS project, Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, Catholic University of Louvain. http://www.microdis-eu.be/content/press-citations/. Accessed 27 Dec 2012
  2. Alexander DE (1980) The Florence floods: what the papers said. Environ Manage 4:27–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Alexander DE (1995) Newspaper reporting of the May 1993 Florence bomb. Int J Mass Emerg Disasters 13:45–65Google Scholar
  4. Alexander DE (2010a) The L’Aquila earthquake of 6 April 2009 and Italian Government policy on disaster response. J Nat Resour Policy Res 2:325–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Alexander DE (2010b) News reporting of the January 12, 2010, Haiti earthquake: the role of common misconceptions. J Emerg Manag 8:15–27Google Scholar
  6. Alexander DE (2011) Civil protection amid disasters and scandals. In Gualmini E, Pasotti E (eds) Italian politics: much ado about nothing? Berghahn, New York and Oxford:180-197; La protezione civile tra scandali e disastri naturali. Politica in Italia 2011: i fatti dell’anno e le interpretazioni. Il Mulino, Bologna: 187-206Google Scholar
  7. Alexander DE (2012) An evaluation of the medium-term recovery process after the 6 April 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, central Italy. Environ Hazards 11:1–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Alexander DE, Magni M (2013) Mortality in the L’Aquila (central Italy) earthquake of 6 April 2009: a study in victimisation. PLoS Currents Disasters, 7 January 2013, 26 pp. http://currents.plos.org/disasters/article/dis-12-0009-mortality-in-the-laquila-central-italy-earthquake-of-6-april-2009/
  9. Augenti N, Parisi F (2010) Learning from construction failures due to the 2009 L’Aquila, Italy, earthquake. J Perform Constr Facil 24:536–555CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cartlidge E (2012) Prison terms for L’Aquila experts shock scientists. Science 338:451–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cavalli A (2001) Reflections on political culture and the “Italian national character”. Daedalus 130:119–137Google Scholar
  12. Cello G, Mazzoli S, Tondi E (1998) The crustal fault structure responsible for the 1703 earthquake sequence of central Italy. J Geodyn 26:443–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chubb J (2002) Three earthquakes: political response, reconstruction and the institutions: Belice (1968), Friuli (1976), Campania (1980). In: Dickie J, Foot J, Snowden FM (eds) Disastro! Disasters in Italy since 1860: culture, politics, society. Palgrave, New York, pp 186–233Google Scholar
  14. Ciccozzi A (2009) Aiuti e miracoli ai margini del terremoto de L’Aquila. Meridiana 65–66:227–255Google Scholar
  15. Ciccozzi A (2010) Il valore dei termini: “mancato allarme” o “rassicurazione disastrosa”? La città nascosta 13 June 2010. www.lacittanascosta.blogspot.it. Accessed 27 Dec 2012
  16. Ciccozzi A (2012) La parte di Galileo. La città nascosta 24 October 2012. www.lacittanascosta.blogspot.it. Accessed 27 Dec 2012
  17. Ciccozzi A (2013) Parola di scienza: il terremoto dell’Aquila e la Commissione Grandi Rischi. Un’analisi antropologica, Derive Aprodi, RomeGoogle Scholar
  18. De Guttry A, Pagani F (1999) La Crisi albanese del 1997: L’azione dell’Italia e delle organizzazioni internazionali : verso un nuovo modello di gestione delle crisi?. Franco Angeli, MilanGoogle Scholar
  19. Dell’Osso L, Carmassi C, Massimetti G, Daneluzzo E, Di Tommaso S, Rossi A (2011) Full and partial PTSD among young adult survivors 10 months after the L’Aquila 2009 earthquake: gender differences. J Affect Disord 131:79–83CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Di Lorenzo C, Palangio P, Santarato G, Meloni A, Villante U, Santarelli L (2011) Non-inductive components of electromagnetic signals associated with L’Aquila earthquake sequences estimated by means of inter-station impulse response functions. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 11:1047–1055CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Erbani F (2010) Il disastro. L’Aquila dopo il terremoto: le scelte e le colpe. Laterza, BariGoogle Scholar
  22. Euronews (2012) Italy: scientists horrified by L’Aquila earthquake verdict. EuroNews 23 October 2012. www.euronews.com/2012/10/23/italy-scientists-horrified-by-l-aquila-earthquake-verdict/. Accessed 27 Dec 2012
  23. Ferri D (2010) Bertolaso e quella casa in via Giulia. Giornalettismo 14 May 2010. http://www.giornalettismo.com/archives/62982/bertolaso-quella-casa-giulia/. Accessed 27 Dec 2012
  24. Fidani C (2010) The earthquake lights (EQL) of the 6 April 2009 Aquila earthquake in Central Italy. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 10:967–978CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Galli P, Galadini F (1999) Seismotectonic framework of the 1997-1998 Umbria-Marche (Central Italy) earthquakes. Seismol Res Lett 70:417–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grant RA, Halliday T (2010) Predicting the unpredictable; evidence of pre-seismic anticipatory behaviour in the common toad. J Zool 281:263–271Google Scholar
  27. Guano E (2010) Taxpayers, thieves, and the state: fiscal citizenship in contemporary Italy, Ethnos. J Anthropol 75:471–495Google Scholar
  28. Guarnieri C (2011) Magistratura e politica: un’integrazione difficile? Democrazia e Diritto 2011(3–4):27–38Google Scholar
  29. Hall SS (2011) At fault? Nature 477:264–269CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Il Centro (2012a) Grandi Rischi, tutti gli imputati condannati a sei anni, risarcimenti da oltre sette milioni di euro. Il Centro L’Aquila 22 October 2012. http://ilcentro.gelocal.it/laquila/cronaca/2012/10/22/news/processo-grandi-rischi-oggi-la-storica-sentenza-1.5903944. Accessed 27 Dec 2012
  31. Il Centro (2012b) Grandi rischi, il rettore dell’Aquila: “È una sentenza giusta”. Il Centro L’Aquila 28 October 2012. http://ilcentro.gelocal.it/laquila/cronaca/2012/10/28/news/grandi-rischi-il-rettore-dell-aquila-e-una-sentenza-giusta-1.5936081. Accessed 27 Dec 2012
  32. Jordan TH, Chen Y-T, Gasparini P, Madariaga R, Main I, Marzocchi W, Papadopoulos G, Sobolev G, Yamaoka K, Zschau J (2011) Operational earthquake forecasting: state of knowledge and guidelines for utilization. (Report by the International Commission on Earthquake Forecasting for Civil Protection). Ann Geophys 54:316–391Google Scholar
  33. Kerr R (2009) After the quake, in search of the science—or even a good prediction. Science 324:322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. L’Espresso (2009) Verbale riunione della Commissione Grandi Rischi, L’Aquila, 31 marzo 2009. L’Espresso, Rome, 17 April 2009Google Scholar
  35. L’Occidente (2012) La sentenza della discordia dell’Aquila fa divampare le polemiche. L’Occidente, 23 October 2012. http://www.loccidentale.it/node/119158. Accessed 27 12 2012
  36. Miles B, Morse S (2007) The role of news media in natural disaster risk and recovery. Ecol Econ 63:365–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Moeller SD (2006) “Regarding the pain of others”: media, bias and the coverage of international disasters. J Int Aff 59:173–196Google Scholar
  38. Molin D, Mucci L, Rossi A (1997) Terremoto del Fucino (Abruzzo) del 13 gennaio 1915: distribuzione del numero e della percentuale delle vittime. Gruppo Nazionale di Geofisica della Terra Solida. Atti del 16 Convegno Nazionale, Rome, 11-13 November 1997Google Scholar
  39. Newton K, Norris P (1999) Confidence in public institutions: faith, culture or performance? American Political Science Association Annual Conference, September 1999, Atlanta, GeorgiaGoogle Scholar
  40. OECD (2010) Review of the Italian National Civil Protection System. OECD Reviews of Risk Management Policies, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris, pp 173Google Scholar
  41. Oliveto G, Liberatore L, Decanini LD (2010) Evoluzione storica della normativa sismica italiana alla luce degli effetti causati dal terremoto dell. Aquila del 2009, Associazione Nazionale Italiana di Ingegneria Sismica (ANIDIS), 14th Conference “L’Ingegneria Sismica in Italia”, Bari, September 2011Google Scholar
  42. Özerdem A, Rufini G (2013) L’Aquila’s reconstruction challenges: has Italy learned from its previous earthquake disasters? Disasters 37:119–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pidgeon N (1997) The limits to safety? Culture, politics, learning and man-made disasters. J Conting Crisis Manag 5:1–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Plastino W, Povinec PP, De Luca G, Doglioni C, Nisi S, Ioannucci L, Balata M, Laubenstein M, Bella F, Coccia E (2010) Uranium groundwater anomalies and L’Aquila earthquake, 6th April 2009 (Italy). J Environ Radioact 101:45–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Porlezza C, Maier SR, Russ-Mohl S (2012) News accuracy in Switzerland and Italy. Journal Pract 6:530–546Google Scholar
  46. RAI (2012) L’Aquila, dopo la sentenza dimissioni a pioggia. Giornale Radio Rai 3, 23 October 2012Google Scholar
  47. Ropeik D (2012) The L’Aquila verdict: a judgment not against science, but against a failure of science communication. Scientific American guest blog 22 October 2012. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/10/22/the-laquila-verdict-a-judgment-not-against-science-but-against-a-failure-of-science-communication/. Accessed 27 Dec 2012
  48. Rose H, Rose S (2008) Israel, Europe and the academic boycott. Race Class 50:1–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rumiz P (2011) Catastrofi d’Italia, la lunga storia che non insegna. La Repubblica 27 November 2011Google Scholar
  50. Salt J (2008) The unmaking of the Middle East: a history of Western disorder in Arab lands. University of California Press, BerkeleyCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Salvi S, Cinti FR, Colini L, D’Addezio G, Doumaz F, Pettinelli E (2003) Investigation of the active Celano-L’Aquila fault system, Abruzzi (central Apennines, Italy), with combined ground-penetrating radar and paleoseismic trenching. Geophys J Int 155:805–818CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Spalletta M, Ugolini L (2011) Italian journalism and the credibility issue: a comparative analysis. Media Res 17:177–198Google Scholar
  53. Stella GA, Rizzo S (2007) La casta: così i politici italiani sono diventati intoccabili. Rizzoli, MilanGoogle Scholar
  54. Todaro V (2008) Nuove norme tecniche per le costruzioni. Exeo Edizioni, Piove di SaccoGoogle Scholar
  55. Travaglio M (2012) Rischi per fiaschi. Il Fatto Quotidiano 24 October 2012Google Scholar
  56. Tribunale di L’Aquila (2012) Sentenza nella causa penale contro Barberi Franco, De Bernadinis Bernardo, Boschi Enzo, Selvaggi Giulio, Calvi Gian Michele, Eva Claudio, Dolce Mauro. Tribunale di L’Aquila, L’Aquila, ItalyGoogle Scholar
  57. Tsolis GS, Xenos TD (2010) A qualitative study of the seismo-ionospheric precursors prior to the 6 April 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 10:133–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Viroli M (2010) La libertà dei servi. Laterza, BariGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University College LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations