Earthquake risk education: a partial statement for Italy (interview with Romano Camassi)

Translated by Google Translate, revised

Romano Camassi is a researcher at INGV (Department of Bologna). ‘Seismologist’ of eccentric training (a degree in Pedagogy, a thesis in modern history), engaged for more than three decades in historical research on earthquakes. Co-author of the main catalogues of Italian earthquakes. For over 15 years he has dedicated a part of his work to seismic risk education projects.

After every destructive earthquake, in Italy as elsewhere, the need to improve the earthquake education the seismic risk education, or even to introduce it at various levels, is recalled. It is true that, albeit not generally, there have been and there are several initiatives in this area. Can you give us an idea, and maybe refer to some publication that summarizes them?

It is true: after every major earthquake, everyone invokes more information, preparation, risk education in schools, information campaigns, exercises. More: it is frequent that at every change of minister (or undersecretary), or just before its decadence, announcements are made, protocols are signed, even, which then have no real following: of this there are very recent examples. The initiatives that in the last decades have set themselves, in various ways, the objective of education to seismic risk have been innumerable, impossible to make an inventory (nor is there a publication that has done so). I refer to initiatives of scientific dissemination on the earthquake, training for schools, awareness of the population. Many local administrations – individual municipalities, provinces, regions – sometimes in a totally impromptu manner, other times in a more organized and continuous way, have promoted initiatives of this kind. The same have been done by individual civil protection associations, or national orders: I remember a beautiful pamphlet of the National Council of Architects, distributed in September 2001 by “Famiglia Cristiana”, or even recent initiatives by geologists and engineers. Could not mention them all.
The problem is that, in many cases (not all), they were short-term initiatives, which often responded to temporary needs, in which the visibility of the promoter was to prevail. Everything is useful, many accomplished things have certainly been of good quality: but the problem is that of sensitization, of risk education, is an essential, fundamental part of that fundamental task of the National Service of Civil Protection summarized by the term, which seems to me almost worn out, of prevention. How can there be prevention, that is to say precise choices, actions that reduce the risk, without people being aware, informed, ‘activated’ to make those choices, every day? And I do not speak so much about the correct behaviours in an emergency, on which we often stop to stop the attention, but of the choices that reduce immediately or in time the vulnerability (not structural and structural) of the environment in which we live.

Can you remember some of the initiatives?
You know well, because you had a very specific role in this, that these issues were dealt with very thoroughly a long time ago, even before the earthquake of Irpinia, almost forty years ago. The Geodynamic Finalized Project (PFG) of the CNR, in the late ’70s, had a Working Group called “Mass Education” (of which you were coordinator), then became “Education and Information” (part of the National Group for Defence from the Earthquakes), and a lot of work in those years was done. The merit of that experience is to have imagined an overall approach, in a national perspective, trying to define contents and educational strategies: I refer to the “Earthquake Teaching System”, interactive and, then, technologically advanced, to the cartoon “Earthquake“, designed by B. Bozzetto and to the survey “What do you think of the earthquake?” on the imaginary and knowledge of Italians about seismic phenomena. All these things today seem futuristic. That season is over, some things are lost, in many cases we have come back, far behind. What was for some time the training and information office of the National Seismic Service for a few years has produced communication materials (also very ambitious, ‘challenging’, in many ways), then that season has run out.

And more recently? Who promotes initiatives in the sector?
Among the more recent things, more general, I think it is right to mention the “national day of safety in schools”, promoted ten years ago by Active Citizenship and formally established by MIUR 2015, and the more specific exhibition promoted by the DPC “Earthquakes of Italy”, set up from 2007 onwards in many Italian locations. In the past few weeks two initiatives of a different nature have had a consistent media coverage. The ambitious “First National Day on Seismic Prevention”, promoted by the National Council of Engineers, National Council of Architects and Inarcassa Foundation, supported by a demanding press campaign (several advertising pages in the main national newspapers). Meritorious initiative, no doubt (even if to qualify as “first national day” is at least not respectful of at least another initiative in progress for several years) and we will see what results will give in a few years. But I also think of the initiative “at school with the geologist”, promoted by the National Council of Geologists, which in launching the campaign on November 16th would bring a geologist to 600 Italian schools. In the program of the day, as presented on the web, several things appear questionable: how can you think significant frontal meetings of a ‘morning’ are not included in the Training Offer Plan, with 200-250 students in a lecture hall or a gym, with a geologist, a seismologist or an engineer or more? Entering a school, meeting and talking with girls and children, girls and boys is a very delicate thing, to shake your wrists. How do you think that everyone can do it without a minimum of specific and thorough preparation? We could discuss these various initiatives for a long time, on which I personally have a very critical opinion. But the main problem with these and other initiatives is that they do not respond to a long-term work plan involving the National Civil Protection Service as a whole, which, incidentally, also includes MIUR. It is not enough to qualify them as such the “collaboration” or the “sponsorship” of a ministry or the DPC.

You have been collaborating for a long time in national and local initiatives on the subject. For example, can you talk about EDURISK?
For the last fifteen years, I have spent part of my work on two communication and risk education projects: the first was EDURISK, a real educational project for risk education for schools. EDURISK was conceived and launched in 2002 by the purpose of a group of researchers of various disciplines (geophysics, geology, historical seismology, seismic engineering, emergency psychology, etc.) to voluntarily dedicate a part of their time to the dissemination of culture science and education at risk in schools. A need for social commitment, to simplify. This is because we were aware of the strong social impact of our research, largely aimed at defining seismic and volcanic hazard and therefore directly at reducing seismic and volcanic risk. We were inspired from the beginning, and we explicitly stated it, precisely to the experiences of the PFG that I mentioned earlier. From the beginning, we chose the school as the main interlocutor for two reasons: on the one hand, because it is the most direct and direct link with society as a whole; on the other, because the goal of the project is to reduce the risk, not passively. It is therefore a goal of social change, which necessarily passes through the younger part of society, starting with children. Simplifying to the extreme: the effects of the next strong earthquake are largely determined by the choices that each of us makes (or non-makes) today and will do, from today onwards. Choosing where and how to live, how to build our houses, how to renovate them, respecting or not the rules, etc. We started from the design and experimentation of educational material, communication tools, with the decisive help of an educational planning staff, pedagogics, authors and illustrators of children’s books, we have created a series of texts for different age groups, from kindergarten at secondary school, accompanied by teaching guides for teachers. The series of EDURISK materials, available digitally in the ‘materials’ section of the site, is full-bodied. And I like to remember often that not a line of those texts was written by us but by authors and illustrators of children’s books, among which I like to remember the late Roberto Luciani, a giant. We are researchers, maybe good seismologists, geologists, etc.; but writing for children and young people is another thing, each one his job. It is a series that has been a great success; the main titles have had about twenty reissues or reprints, and versions in different languages are available. Then, for a long time, we have promoted educational projects around Italy that, starting from teacher training, have engaged thousands of teachers (about ten thousand in total) and students (about one hundred thousand) for one or more school years. Numbers very high, but irrelevant in absolute terms. The initial experimentation, carried out in Calabria, Romagna and Friuli, and the work at L’Aquila in 2008, before the earthquake, are fundamental steps of this path.
After the first years, the activity has progressively evolved towards an increasingly informal and interactive approach, with laboratory activities. Together with a cooperative specialized in the use of educational gaming (ConUnGioco) we have created an active path (Tutti Giù per Terra) that since 2007 and for many years has ‘travelled’ together with the exhibition “Earthquakes of Italy”. From a re-elaboration of this active path, realized directly by some classes of the ‘media’ school of L’Aquila, the docufiction “Do not call me earthquake” was born. In several projects, the work developed in schools has become an instrument of communication to the outside world, parents and citizens. In the form of interactive displays, events, etc. After the Emilian earthquakes of 2012, the work with the schools of Crevalcore, San Felice sul Panaro, Sant’Agostino and Ferrara was transformed in 2013 into a widespread exhibition (“Let’s do it! A fantastic reconstruction“), with installations in over 200 spaces public and private sectors in countries and hamlets. The same happened in Ascoli Piceno after the earthquakes of 2016, in the Appennino forlivese for the anniversary of the centenary of the earthquake of 1918 and is under construction in the Vesuvian and Flegrea area, on seismic and volcanic risk. The parable summarily summarized (impossible to represent everything) leads to a drastic conclusion: we have completely abandoned the frontal approach, it is absolutely useless, neither for adults nor for children. It is not the level of scientific culture that, by itself, changes people’s choices (there would not be many smokers), people are not empty ‘containers’ to fill. The reason at the bottom is simple: if the goal is sensitization, awareness of risk and an active role in its reduction, this can only happen with the deep emotional involvement of people, through a path of discovery that we can simply accompany.

In the last few years you have dealt with “Io Non Rischio” (I do not take risks), an initiative with a fairly imperative title ….
The title is imperative, yes. But it is simply the way we have found to declare a commitment, a choice that each of us decides to make. “I do not take risks” therefore means “I decide not to risk” and I do something immediately to reduce the risk.
Io Non Rischio is a national communication campaign. A street campaign, based on the model of cancer awareness campaigns: that is, setting up information points for citizens on a day defined throughout the country. The differences from the other campaigns are numerous: we do not raise funds, we only do an informative job. The most original feature of the campaign is that this work is entrusted to volunteers of civil protection associations, who have followed a specific training path in cascade: volunteers who meet their fellow citizens, speak with them (perhaps in the same dialect), a territory who know well why they live there. Precisely for this reason the communication work does not end in that weekend (usually in mid-October), but can continue in various ways throughout the year. The campaign was born in 2011, in an experimental form, and has grown exponentially in the following years, involving several thousand volunteers, a total of a thousand associations. The original ambition was to arrive in all about 8,000 Italian municipalities. We have not yet succeeded, also because we have spent a lot of energy to develop new risks (tsunami and flood) and paid a little for a growth that is perhaps too rapid. And for many other reasons.
On the other hand after 8 years of work, in addition to the many hundreds of thousands of citizens met in the squares, the campaign has become a reference point for many municipalities, which after the initial mistrust found it natural to take to the streets to present the Emergency Plan Comunale. The Regions, initially wary, now begin to believe (not all of course, do not exaggerate …) and to commit themselves to make it their own tool to raise awareness on the risks from earthquake, tidal wave and flood. The campaign to survive and grow must necessarily renew itself, deepen its motivations and raise the level of preparation of all its actors, transforming itself from an annual appointment to a widespread campaign, throughout the year. The main advantage of this campaign is, undoubtedly, that for the first time it is truly a national initiative, not only in ambitions.

What are the essential aspects on which your initiatives are aimed?
I believe that the two initiatives have common characteristics, and not by chance: the Io Non Rischio campaign was born from an idea – moreover in its initial vague and ingenuous formulation – of Anpas, which then gathered the support of the Department of Civil Protection , INGV and Reluis (and subsequently CIMA). However, a fundamental contribution was made to the experience of EDURISK, whose design staff materially packaged the campaign’s communication materials and devised a series of tools for both volunteer training and street communication. In common the two initiatives have risk education, awareness and activation of people for its reduction, as a clear goal. Both initiatives pay a lot of attention to paths of knowledge of the environment in which we live and its historical dimension. One of the fundamental elements of the preparation of the square is the “time line”, a visual representation of the seismic history of the location where the event takes place, a time line whose realization required that the volunteers question the characteristics of the seismicity of the ‘area, did a real research (which in some cases has unearthed unpublished information), then sharing the outcomes with their citizens.
It is a seemingly simple process, this one, but it describes well what causes an information content – which in itself could well be transmitted through the media (or via road signs, why not?) – become ‘knowledge’. To say it with a great, Ben Wisner3 information becomes knowledge only when it is placed in a context that gives it meaning and some relevance to the action. In this sense, knowledge is part of a system that guides the understanding of reality and human action on that reality. Here: we return exactly there, to the path of discovery, which generates awareness and stimulates to act to change reality.

Do you have the possibility to monitor the effectiveness of the interventions?
We have always done this in the EDURISK project, with simple tools (satisfaction and evaluation questionnaires), but always on a limited scale. As for Io Non Rischio it is not a simple matter, for an initiative that explicitly has a national character, involves many (in these years about ten thousand volunteers), comes into contact with many people (our estimates exceed one million contacts in the square) . Well, to accurately assess the long-term impact of the campaign, that is to say if it has left traces in people’s risk awareness and has produced some risk reduction choices, has produced social change, would require very complex investigative tools and expensive (many tens of thousands of euros), which are not within our reach, unfortunately. Paper or online questionnaires that we have used and use are not enough, or telephone surveys carried out with the call centre of the DPC (which we have done), because they do not reach a statistically significant sample.
An instrument that we used, on the one hand, to calibrate the educational interventions, and on the other to understand if any initiative (ours or others) had left any trace, it is a survey on risk perception – “Earthquake Test“, through an online questionnaire, which then collected data that are not strictly significant from a statistical point of view4. On a non-representative sample, then, among many things, it emerged that those involved in a real educational project like EDURISK have a much higher level of awareness than the average, which is obvious.

The most important level is obviously the school level. What does not work and what should/could be done?
What is not working? The school has been in difficulty for a long time, but I do not have enough elements to make a diagnosis nor to propose solutions. In these years, I have met thousands of teachers, I have seen so much effort, dedication, sometimes glimpses of authentic passion, in the most unthinkable contexts (in the towns of the Vesuvian and Flegrea area, in Benevento, Calabria, Emilia, in the Upper Apennines of Forlì). In general, the teachers are submerged by the most disparate projects, with little possibility of selecting and find themselves having to hold up for themselves an educational system tossed between continuous reforms and counter-reforms, whose meaning is not understood. Obviously, there is no “project”: the MIUR is substantially absent on these issues and the Regional (and provincial) School Offices are now reduced to administrative branches.
I do not delude myself about this. Small initiatives in the local area, linked to particular motivations or circumstances, can still give very interesting, sometimes extraordinary results, but I see no glimpse for something that has adequate dimensions to leave traces on a national scale. Will it change anything in the future? I can and can hope for it, but miracles depend only on us.

Speaking of schools, from San Giuliano di Puglia onwards the attention to the security / insecurity of the same has increased. How can this attention be combined with this need for safety with the need to increase awareness of seismic risk?
Very difficult to answer. On the one hand, the data (if any) photograph a merciless situation, to the point of suggesting that it is impossible to solve it or even to improve it. The ability, completely political, to imagine a ten-year path at least is completely lacking. On the other hand, on this aspect, one falls from the clouds. There are technical aspects, difficult to manage (which means precisely the numerical coefficient of seismic vulnerability), the limits of available resources, the difficulty in setting priorities and the times required for the interventions. This is why the ambitions of many presumed initiatives to make school patrimony secure, which often remain simple intentions, clash. I can only put parenthesis, for a moment, the underlying pessimism, to hope that the work of sensitization that was made by the Io Non Rischio campaign in these 8 years (and also by EDURISK in its more than 15 years of life) has made a significant number of people aware that this is a top priority, and that only by the direct commitment of people, ordinary citizens, we can think of changing something.

The other vital sector is represented by the media, which spread all kinds of news often without any filter. What can be done in this sense?
You return to the data journalism, this is the solution. Someone did and is doing it: the work started by Wired and continued by data-journalism initiatives [here and here]. But the same work, serious, thorough, constant, should be done in the local area, without seeking the scandal. The media often take shortcuts, going to chase the single scandal, the ‘case’, without however often doing on that a really thorough job, or being ‘bummed’ by individual ‘experts’. The story of the school of San Giuliano di Puglia presented and presents many topics (failure to update the seismic classification, the interventions that have worsened the vulnerability, the role of the Municipality, the linear behavior of the newly assigned School Manager, the trial that is followed), but I can not forget a couple of paradoxical events much more recent, which involved schools in central Italy. The first is that of the Liceo Cotugno in L’Aquila, which has been closed for a couple of months between 2016 and 2017, because the vulnerability index was much lower than “1” (although it responded very well to the earthquake of 6 April 2009). The other is that of the 100 mayors who closed the schools after 18 January 2017, demanding (from whom? From the DPC ?, from the “State”?) Assessments of vulnerability [discovered for them recently, until then had thought only in terms of “usability”, and this is a step forward, no doubt]. It is a pity that the vulnerability checks should have made them, the mayors, by the end of 2008 (Article 2, paragraph 3 of the OPCM 3274/2003: “it is obligatory to proceed with the verification, to be carried out by the respective owners, public and private, both of the buildings of strategic interest and of the infrastructural works whose functionality during the seismic events assumes fundamental importance for the purposes of civil protection, both of the buildings and of the infrastructural works that can assume relevance in relation to the consequences of a possible collapse ” )! Then the deadlines were extended (to 2010 and then to 2013, in the best tradition), and everyone forgot about it. And there were also the resources to make those checks. And I can not understand why – it is an example that I often do, perhaps instrumentally – the municipalities of the Upper Rhine Valley, in the Appennino bolognese (my house) the checks have made them, have done or even started the adjustment or improvement interventions seismic, and that hundreds of municipalities of Abruzzo, Marche, Umbria and Lazio, areas much more dangerous seismically, they did not (if they did not), starting the day after. It’s been ten years since that first deadline.
Here, even on such events the media should work, not simply feed the useless, plaintive, irresponsible to claim the intervention of the state, as if this were an abstract entity outside of us, which has nothing to do with the Mayor ( the only one, but the only civil protection authority, and many of them are not even aware of it), with the Municipality, with the citizens who live in that municipality, who pay (or do not pay) taxes, respect (or not) respect) the rules, have direct responsibilities on things and the level of risk they decide (unconsciously, maybe) to accept.

Do you have news of any interesting initiative outside of Italy?
I had some contact with other European experiences, France, Switzerland, Greece. And what struck me is that even in very different contexts, in these countries an attempt to imagine a work plan on risk education, organic and long-term, has been done. In Swiss Planat; in Greece EPPO. But what struck me most is the French IFFO-RME trainers’ network, which I met directly a few years ago: not that it is a very advanced experience in terms of content definition, action strategies or anything else, but it is a national initiative, consolidated over time, involving a flood of subjects, from ministries (environment, education, interiors), to universities, etc. Exactly what is missing from us.

Hope you can improve something in the future in this area?
Frankly speaking, I am afraid not. It is a very difficult time for the National Service of Civil Protection, for the Department that coordinates it, for my own Institute that is part of it. The resources are reduced, the tightening and the twitching of administrative procedures in the public sector are rapidly leading us to paralysis (we are already there), there is no real change of personnel, not many years have been investing in recruiting staff with adequate skills (in the fields of communication, training, educational planning), the different ‘pieces’ of the National Service – as shown by many initiatives to which I have mentioned – are each on their own. The same campaign I Do Not Risk, the first and only one that has really had a national character and has tried to give itself continuity, is at the limit of survival (for many reasons that do not go deeper).
It would be necessary – I do not say it because I’m talking to you, I assure you – of returning to the spirit of the Geodynamic Finalized Project, when all the best energies, seismological and geological research, planning, engineering, etc. they worked together on the goal of “defence against earthquakes”. Forty years have passed, we are forced – I am afraid – to start again from before that project.





One thought on “Earthquake risk education: a partial statement for Italy (interview with Romano Camassi)

  1. Pingback: Today in disaster resilience (21 December 2018) – Disaster Resilience News


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