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In early 2009, tremors and foreshocks were increasing in the Abruzzo region of central Italy. The swarms of small quakes concerned local citizens, and Italian science technician Giampaolo Giulian was predicting a major quake, only to be reported to the police. A select group of Italian scientists, all members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, met on March 31, to assess the situation, and decide on a course of action. A press conference was held after the meeting, led by the technical head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency. He announced,
the scientific community tells me there is no danger because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favorable. (Nosengo 2010)
Many citizens of the mountainous region were relieved, and evacuation or precautionary pre-positioning of emergency supplies did not occur.
On April 6 a significant (magnitude 6.3) earthquake epicentered near the town of L'Aquila, the capital of the Abruzzo, struck the region. It was at relatively shallow depth (8.8 km), and the region's soil structure amplified the seismic impact. Nearly
Fig. 3.6 Damage from 2009 L'Aquila Earthquake (Website of the Italian Civil Protection Department – Presidency of the Council of Ministers, protezionecivile.gov.it/jcms/en/ descrizione_sismico.wp;jsessionid=6EED29F25DA52C422634EE009FC67CAE?pagtab=3)
70 % of the buildings in L'Aquila were severely damaged or destroyed (Fig. 3.6). Over 300 persons died, 1,500 were injured, and thousands were left homeless (Kaplan et al. 2010). In a trial watched by the global scientific community with alarm, six of the scientists were convicted of manslaughter, for giving falsely assuring advice on possibility of a major and devastating quake. The convictions are under appeal.
Severe environmental crises disrupt multiple dimensions of social, economic, and environmental systems over both shortand long-term time scales. It is likely that the complexity and impact of such crises will increase as human population continues to rise, technology becomes more complex and vulnerable, climate change acts as a driving force and/or accelerant for many environmental crises, and as local, regional, and national economies become more globalized and interdependent. Fatalities will likely increase in the future due to more people living in hazard-prone areas (e.g., Holzer and Savage 2013). The insurance industry has shown that the cost of property damage from natural hazards is increasing and even single events “can greatly strain a nation's ability to deal with direct damage costs and indirect economic, social, and cultural losses” (American Geosciences Institute 2012).
Because of this growing cost and complexity, it is likely that science will play an increasingly significant role in supporting response to and preparation for future environmental crises. Scientists, emergency managers, business leaders, educators, and local, state, and federal decision makers will have to cooperate to ensure public safety and to develop solutions to mitigating and adapting to risk. Beyond these challenges, the scientific community – including the social sciences and its practitioners – must grapple with the responsibility of science and scientists during crisis, and the implications of events on the island of Martinique and the Italian region of Abruzzo.
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