“Disasters do not just happen – they result from failures of development which increase vulnerability to hazard events” (White, Philip et al, 2004, 3).
On 6 April 2009 the medieval city of L’Aquila, located in the Abruzzo region, central Italy, was shocked by a massive earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Moment Magnitude Scale. 309 people were killed, 25000 people were displaced, 10000 buildings were considerably damaged and USD 16 billion was the overall estimated damage (Prats, 2012).
On 20 September 2011, six members of the Serious Risk Commission and a government administrator, at the time members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, were taken to court and “accused of providing ‘inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory information’ on the probability and risk of an earthquake and of falsely reassuring the population” (Prats, 2012, 13). In fact on 31 March 2009, just 6 days before the quake, Guido Bertolaso, the former director of the Civil Protection Agency, summoned the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks in L’Aquila in order to “furnish citizens in the Abruzzo region with all the information available to the scientific community about the seismic activity of recent weeks” (Hall, 2011, 267). The experts at the meeting agreed in declaring the situation under control and advising the population to relax: an earthquake was unlikely to happen, although it could not be totally excluded.
On 22 October 2012 the verdict convicted the seven experts of manslaughter for failing to provide an adequate seismic warning to residents and to play down earthquake risks in the region.
Is this a trial against the failure of science or against the failure of communication of science and risk assessment in disaster risk reduction (DRR)?
Italy is an earthquake-prone country and Abruzzo region is one of the most seismically active areas in Europe. Historically one of the poorest region in Italy, from 1950s the region has achieved a notable level of development. Then in 1990s the nationwide Italian judicial investigation called Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) deeply impacted the region affecting the election and increasing corruption in particular in building sector (Özerdem; Rufini, 2013).
The institutional structure for disaster management in Italy is formally divided into two bodies. The first one is the Dipartimento della Protezione Civile (Civil Protection Department - DPC), which is accountable for the four phases, such as preparedness, relief, reconstruction, and mitigation, in disaster management. The second one is locally constituted as the result of the decentralisation process and it comes from the Decree Bassanini of 1998. The resolution amounts to the distribution of responsibilities and powers among central state as body of coordination and local authorities as decision-maker. The swing of responsibilities discloses an incompetence of the local civil protection and...