Quakefinder Blog

Manslaughter Convictions and the 2007 L’Aquila, Italy Earthquake

On Monday, October 22, 2012 an Italian court sentenced six scientists and a government official to six years in prison for manslaughter for failing to give adequate warning of an earthquake that killed more than 300 people in L’Aquila, Italy in 2009. We wrote about this case when the trial first started in September, 2011. Interestingly enough, in doing research to support today’s blog post, we found many journalists haven’t taken the time to investigate what brought these men under indictment for giving “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” about whether small tremors felt by L’Aquila residents in the weeks and months before the April 6, 2009, earthquake should have constituted grounds for an earthquake warning. Our understanding is that a local scientific technician, Giampaolo Giulani, provided a vocal warning to the government of an impending large earthquake but he was silenced by an injunction forbidding him to communicate his warning on the grounds that his predictions would spread unfounded panic. (The problem was that his technique was not well understood or generally accepted. Many theories abound, but few have been tested rigorously). Now that manslaughter convictions have been handed down, the case has received considerable attention in the media and in the halls of QuakeFinder, provoking interesting discussion. We take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of the work that QuakeFinder is doing to provide days of advance warning of potential major earthquake activity. This issue highlights the importance of partnering between organizations like QuakeFinder and government agencies, with the goal of supporting research, rigorously testing the more promising techniques, and developing notification plans for residences and businesses. Short-term warnings are really important. Several days warning of an imminent earthquake would allow many effective responses: governments could pre-position emergency supplies and personnel; businesses could alter shipping and manufacturing schedules; families could ensure they have stocks of food, water and other supplies; individuals could avoid visiting risky places such as old buildings and bridges. Such actions will reduce death, injury, and property loss just as they do today when warnings of hurricanes and tornadoes are heeded. But perhaps there is a silver lining in this story, as this incident will surely bring more attention to the dire need for reliable earthquake forecasts!   Links: About Giampaolo Giulani: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/05/laquila-earthquake-prediction-giampaolo-giuliani/ Article discussing the warning Giulani gave and what lead to the Major Risks Committee providing the reassurance they did to the community: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/06/earthquake-warning-was-removed-from-internet/ This article inaccurately claims Giulani wasn’t a scientist: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/10/22/163400917/italy-finds-scientists-guilty-of-manslaughter-for-2009-earthquake-forecast Gives no mention of Giulani in either of these two articles: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/49504719/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/scientists-convicted-manslaughter-over-earthquake-warning/ http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/italian-experts-convicted-of-manslaughter-over-deadly-2009-quake-1.1005457

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