Ischia, Torre Annunziata, perception of risk and magnitude (M. Stucchi)

This is a quick translation from the Italian version, with the help of Google. Sorry for the imperfect English. Thanks to Ina Cecic for her prompt review.

Italy was beginning to remember the anniversary of Amatrice’s earthquake (August 24, 2016) in different ways, of course, when the Ischia earthquake dramatically reopened the problem of so-called prevention, of which so much has been said and spoken about.
On the morning of the 21st, the day of the earthquake, Minister Del Rio had spoken at the Rimini (Comunione and Liberazione) meeting. Del Rio is a Minister of a couple of governments I do not like, but among the many is a person I trust. After (unfortunately) reproposing a “pearl” that must have remained in his pocket since the earthquakes of 2012 (“the area was not known as seismic“, ignoring the work done by the Emilia and Romagna Region to delay as much as possible the affiliation to a seismic zone of much of its territory), he recalled, illustrated and defended the so-called “sismabonus” and the initiatives of “Casa Italia”, also reminding that the solution of the problems is not for tomorrow. Stimulated by some interlocutors, he also pushed further on, talking about the necessity of the “building dossier” and of demolitions, where necessary. Ohibò!

Moreover, following the non-seismic collapse of Torre Annunziata (July 7, 2017), Del Rio had announced that the Government would have made the “stability certificate” for buildings in the autumn Budget law mandatory, although knowing, however, that when the Budged would have been discussed, the collapse of Torre Annunziata would have been forgotten. The Minister therefore knows that things in Italy proceed by “human sacrifices”; when the emotional look is gone, it goes further. But I must say that in his interview with “The Republic” I was impressed with his “remembering the hard opposition that has always hindered the building’s booklet”, even in Parliament, for obvious problems of possible depreciation of the buildings themselves. Here, beside a rage of anger I felt a bit of sympathy for a Minister who exhibited so much; sympathy then rationally abolished by the fact that there is powerful lobby opposite – in fact – to the safety of buildings, against which the Minister basically admits of having little resources.Ministers, of course, must be equilibrium points and not climb on the barricades. But when the problem arises again and reappears, and it reappears, it would not be the case to say things clearer, to name names, to explain who is opposed to what, and why repeated sentences and conventions on prevention did not produce anything for almost fifty years? Actually, there are rules that prevent the marketing of expired or degraded food products; and not only to market them, but also to produce not suitable ones. Is the Italian construction situation perhaps better? And why do we all have to pay the price of the poor product ruin?

Ischia lives in tourism, Neapolitan, national and international. Will it be ever possible to make a seismic verification mandatory for at least public buildings such as hotels, bed and breakfasts, etc. that would give a clear answer: green, habitable (perhaps with some risk to be explained); Red, not habitable? I know it would depress the economy. And then let’s go ahead with some human sacrifices: a little emotion, some reparation and everything starts again. After all, in the aftermath of the Bormio earthquakes in 1999, we had proposed to hoteliers to put in the rooms a vademecum about the risk and what to do in case of an earthquake; the Initiative was rejected as it frightened the customers “who would go to St. Moritz instead” ….

I read that in Abruzzo, before the recent elections, they were preparing the “hospitality building file” as a response to the tragedy of Rigopiano avalanche. Great idea (did anyone see the status of various B&Bs and hotels after the 2016 earthquakes?). However, the Vice-President of the region stated that “For tour operators it will not be an obligation to verify the seismic vulnerability of the structures; but who will do it will receive certification from the Region, in order to make visitors visible to the state of the building. Given that the dictate of Prime Minister Ordinance 3274 of 2003, the deadline of which has been largely deferred by public buildings owners, should also apply to B&Bs and hotels, without the need for additional rules, what does the Region do? It makes it non-compulsory. Basically, customers will have to go in person and see if the selected B&B has verified the seismic vulnerability, and the outcome of the verification.

So there is a conflict between public security and free market: in fact with a bet on the probability of an earthquake occurring and the vulnerability of the building. Sometimes the bet goes wrong, someone pays the price in terms of life, and all of us pay that in terms of cost. It is good to know it and to remember it; but it is always easier to throw the blame on others, such as the state, the cynical and baroque fate, and then proceed and claim compensation.

It is becoming popular, in Italy, to take it with magnitudes and with the bodies that determine them. In L’Aquila 2009, that “real” value would have been scientifically lowered by INGV in order not to allow damage compensation: a good hoax, which even a few members of the National Assembly took over. Yesterday the social media discussed the magnitude (and depth) with the same passion with which it is discussed (a posteriori) of a football slow motion. This discussion has inevitably seen INGV again under accusation, always having lowered, or even “mistaken”, the magnitude; (because everyone knows that USGS in America or EMSC in France are better by definition; because they work better abroad or because their values seemed more like their imagination).Few people are interested in understanding the path to improving the data that research organizations do in these cases. No, if the value is later updated this is because the employees are incapable of doing so or because there is something hidden. I add that, from what I read in social media, few people really know what magnitude is and what they measure (in the school curriculum it is hardly mentioned). Someone said that there was a mistake of 4 points (sic!); that 0.4 more means that the earthquake is a bit bigger (sure, but how much?), as if this was automatically reflected on an increase of damage. Few are aware that magnitude, like all physical quantities, is affected by an order uncertainty of 0.1, 0.2. Few are aware that accelerations and displacements cause the damage (and of the fact that we had quite high accelerations even in a very limited frequency band).
And so, while some, and especially foreign commentators, realized that the scandal was that a magnitude 4 earthquake, which was probably shallow, had produced damage and death, some Italians protested against data providers, almost as if damage and dead were unacceptable for M3.6 while they would have been a bit more for M4.3 or even 4.5.Once again the attention was given to the earthquake, when the problem was, and is, that some buildings in Casamicciola, under the building code in second-degree seismic zone since 1935, had literally been crumbled for a small earthquake resembling those of 1881 and 1883 (by the way, by the irony of the fate, INGV has recently lowered the magnitude of the latter … … not yesterday, but one year ago, fortunately). And unfortunately there are – all around Italy – many “Ischia” and many “Amatrice” waiting for their fate, more or less unknowingly; and that perhaps, in the meantime, any attempt to tackle the problem is opposed in many ways, just like in Ischia in 2010 (

For Ischia, and with other areas, we talk of abusive buildings, which is a clear concept. But Minister Del Rio, should the buildings which are not made safe with respect to the building code, perhaps be considered a bit “abusive” either?



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