How (and when) INGV was born (by Massimiliano Stucchi

translated from by googletranslate, revised

Premise. In spite of the fact that these days the twentieth anniversary of the birth of INGV is going to be celebrated, INGV was actually born on January 10th 2001. In 1999, Legislative Decree 381/1999 was published, which established the path and methods of establishing the INGV. Until January 10, 2001, INGV did not exist; in its place there existed the institutes that would have merged there later, with their presidents, directors and governing boards.
As one former colleague commented, celebrating the birth of INGV on the anniversary of his institutional decree, is a bit like “anticipating the birthday celebration to the day of conception ”(cit.). Anyhow.
I therefore thought I had some time to prepare a detailed account, perhaps with Tullio Pepe and others; this advance forces me to be a bit approximate, and I apologize to those who have lived through the experiences I describe if they will not find my narrative perfectly corresponding to how the events took place. However I liked writing it: comments are welcome and … I’ll fix it in 2021.

The year was 1999 and, as another ex-colleague reminded us, in Erice (Trapani), a high place of scientific research, a special course was held in July in the frame the “School of Geophysics”, directed by Enzo Boschi . In fact, mainly Italian researchers from research institutes in the geophysical, seismological and volcanological sector (ING, CNR, Vesuvian Observatory, Trieste Geophysical Observatory) met, as well as university professors from various disciplines related to geophysics. Some geological professors were also present.
If the Legislative Decree 381/1999 was the act of conception of the INGV, the Erice’s school was the phase of flirting, or even something more. The program saw broad-spectrum presentations on ongoing research and open problems, peacefully divided between researchers from all the bodies without exaggerated competition but, indeed, in a climate of collaboration; an absolute novelty for Italy. Until recently, in fact, and for many years, the institutions in question were openly conflicting both scientifically and operationally, also and above all to try to grab the limited public funds available.

From 1975 to 1981 the CNR’s Geodynamic Finalized Project (PFG), thanks to the open views of Paolo Gasparini (Naples), who was its first director, and of a high-level board of directors, had made seismologists and engineers, volcanologists and geologists actively collaborate in a “shaken” period – it must be said – from several important Italian earthquakes (Friuli, 1976, Gulf of Patti, 1978; Norcia, 1979; Irpinia-Basilicata, 1980), as well as from considerable earthquakes abroad. ING participated in a marginal way, only, both because of the short-sightedness of the leadership of that time, and by virtue of the fact that the institution was even at risk of being ruled by a commissioner, which then happened in 1981.
From the experience of the PFG the National Group for Volcanology (GNV) and the National Group for the Defense of Earthquakes (GNDT: the applicative purpose expressed by the title should be underlined) were born. In some respects the Great Risks Commission (CGR) was also born from PFG in 1982, based on the model of the French commission commissioned by Haroun Tazieff; Enzo Boschi was appointed Extraordinary Commissioner (and later director) of ING; subsequently, the State Secretary for Civil Protection was established. GNV and GNDT actually passed under the sponsorship of the Civil Protection Department, developed by Giuseppe Zamberletti (the PFG on the other hand emanated from Ministry of Research), emphasizing the applicative character of the research carried out by the two groups. The GNDT subsequently underwent various institutional changes.
ING did not participate in GNV and GNDT but to a minimum extent, for a high-level choice of address and allocation of funds: and this, beyond the good individual relations between the various researchers, contributed to fuel the above mentioned conflict.

The 1997 Colfiorito earthquakes (occurred when Franco Barberi was State Secretary for Civil Protection) determined, in addition to an impressive qualitative leap in scientific investigations and post-earthquake intervention, also a greater public attention to the problem of under-sizing resources and staff dedicated to the study of volcanoes and earthquakes. In addition to some interventions dedicated to ongoing situations (young researchers contracts), Enzo Boschi and Franco Barberi, with the help of the capable ING general director, began to study the possibility of a general reorganization of the sector (talks had begun time before, more quietly, at the end of the PFG I accompanied Franco Barberi to a meeting on the subject, in Enzo Boschi’s office at the University of Bologna). Boschi often remembered that other scientific sectors, perhaps less strategic for the life of the country than ours, such as the physics of nuclear particles, had acquired greater power, and therefore resources, precisely because they presented themselves united (after perhaps having washed their clothes dirty inside the family ….) and spoke with one voice, only.

Thus it was that in that school of Erice, after a couple of days of scientific presentations, Enzo Boschi opened a special session with some words that were then obscure to most. However, there was a perception that something big was happening and that we were attending a meeting of which we could say in the future “I was there too”. Boschi then gave the floor to Paolo Gasparini who illustrated the project in detail. Discussions took place on the spot and then “at home”; some quarrels, several perplexities: for example, for the “non-ING” regarding the fact of entering – model Germany East / DDR – in a sort of enlarged ING; for the “ING”, about the fear of having to bear some dead weight …
On September 29 of that year, the Legislative Decree 381/1999 was published, which established the perimeter of the reorganization, and the itinerary for the construction of the INGV. The ING, which merged into the INGV, was suppressed and the other selected Institutes also merged: Vesuvian Observatory and the three CNR Institutes: International Institute of Volcanology, Catania, Seismic Risk Research Institute, Milan and Institute of Geochemistry, Palermo, GNV, GNDT and “Poseidon System” (a sort of spin-off dedicated to Etna monitoring). The Experimental Geophysical Observatory of Trieste remained outside in its entirety (the “Friuli will do itself” model … ..), including the seismological section and the seismological network of Friuli. A Committee was drafted for the drafting of the Regulations which worked for about a year, through numerous internal meetings, consultations, etc. If I can bring a personal memory, I will say that in that difficult sequence of meetings I saw Boschi at its highest level ever, purposeful and determined.

On 10 January 2001, with the Regulations approved by the Ministry of Research, the Committee in question met for the last time, appointed the Directors of the Sections provided for in the Regulations (Milan, Naples, Catania, Palermo and three in Rome (plus Central Administration: new with respect to ING) and declared the INGV to be born. The position of director of the sections was entrusted, as per the Regulations, to INGV researchers. The next day the new directors began to concretely build the INGV sections. Pisa and Bologna were established a few years later, and a numerous branch offices were also established later.

The institutional Decree had left to  individual researchers the faculty to opt – at individual level and within a few weeks – to remain in the CNR, by virtue of some differences in the economic-juridical treatment that the Staff Regulation did not (or perhaps did not want) ) to unify. This option was used by some CNR researchers, and in particular by a substantial part of the permanent staff of the former Seismic Risk Research Institute (IRRS-CNR, Milan), which remained in the CNR and later joined other institutes. This was partly due to reasons of scientific disagreement, partly for reasons of lack of harmony with the future INGV and its leadership, despite a public “plea” addressed to them by Enzo Boschi during a reconnaissance visit to Milan.

The Decree also envisaged the possibility that INGV would establish sections at the University Faculties that would propose them, according to the model of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN). At the close of the terms, about twenty requests arrived. Some were not accepted because they came from faculties located in cities where an INGV section was already present, or in preparation. In these cases, the non-acceptance was followed by an invitation to establish collaborations at the local level. Others were not accepted as they were in fact requests for mere funding and not for sharing resources as well as objectives; those requests were impossible to accept in relation to the scarcity of available resources.
The collaboration with the universities – and with other subjects such as for example some Regions, the Eucentre Foundation (Pavia) and other institutions – was consolidated in any case through research projects, conventions, consortia, research doctorates, etc. In addition, it was strengthened through the GNV and the GNDT, later replaced by the INGV-DPC projects, in which INGV took charge of also managing the research contracts with the outside world.
On the other hand, a long phase in which the university world had substantially dominated, often relegating ING, CNR etc. researchers to the prevailing role of data collectors, came to an end. This was also an intuition of Enzo Boschi who, although he was a university professor himself, trusted a lot on the INGV researchers, who later repaid that trust with great amplitude.

Whether we celebrate the recurrence of the Decree or that of a real birth of INGV, it is striking to see that many of the main protagonists of the transition and the start of INGV – perhaps most of them – still on duty or retired, are not invited to the celebrations, even though many of them they are still top executives engaged in crucial activities for the life of the institution. Of other protagonists, first of all the tireless General Director Cesidio Lippa, who died in 2007, even the memory is not acknowledged. The same is true for the main promoter and first president of the ING, Enzo Boschi, who, on the other hand, remains alive in the memory of those who had the privilege of accompanying him on this adventure.


2 thoughts on “How (and when) INGV was born (by Massimiliano Stucchi

  1. Grazie Max, è sempre un piacere leggere il tuo blog. Ciao, Bruno

    Il giorno ven 27 set 2019 alle ore 23:58 Terremoti e grandi rischi (earthquakes and gre


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