Vol.5, No.8A1, 78-91 (2013) Natural Science
Reducing seismic risk by understanding its cultural
roots: Inference from an Italian case history
Francesco Stoppa*, Chiara Berti
Department of Psychology, Humanities and Territory, University “G. d’Annunzio”, Chieti, Italy;
*Corresponding Author: fstoppa@unich.it
Received 5 April 2013; revised 4 May 2013; accepted 11 May 2013
Copyright © 2013 Francesco Stoppa, Chiara Berti. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution
License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
The paper discusses how to approach the
problem of the social mitigation of seismic risk,
in order to reduce damage and grief consequent
to earthquakes. An alert protocol, intended as a
working hypothesis, is proposed based on the
experience gained from analysis of the be-
haviour and social response to the threat before
and after the great disaster of the L’Aquila earth-
quake on 6th April 2009. Authors propose a
protocol addressing four levels of increasing
alert based on signs of earthquake preparation
and social concerns. In this sense, it works as
an intensity scale and does not strictly relate to
earthquake size (magnitude) or seismic hazard.
The proposed alert protocol provides sensible
measures for reducing vulnerability, which is the
only factor that can be more or less efficiently
controlled, based on structural and behavioural
adjustments. Factors indicating the difficult re-
lationship between politicians, scientific com-
munity and citizens are considered: 1) a serious
gap between researchers and citizens; 2) meas-
ures adopted by local administrators and the
National Civil Protection Service not agreed by
the population; 3) misunderstanding originated
from a lack of clarity of communication about
scientific terminology; and 4) the lack of an alert
procedure protocol. In the current situation, all
these problems are crucial and contribute to the
unpreparedness to face a seismic event, and
thus greatly increase the risk. The adoption and
implementation of an alert procedure protocol
requires a preliminary assessment of the con-
text and should be adapted to the local sensibil-
ity and culture. The application of a protocol
may reduce the contrasts between preventive
measures and individual responsibilities, mak-
ing mitigation measures more feasible and so-
cially acceptable. In this paper, risk evaluation is
not strictly related to probabilistic or determi-
nistic predictions. In fact, this is a result of a
project that comes from the general analysis of
risk and is not intended to give an alternative
hazard estimate method. This paper proposes
an alert protocol addressing four levels of in-
creasing alert based on signs of earthquake
generating preparation and social concerns.
Finally, there is a suggestion on how to gradu-
ally communicate the threat and get citizens in-
volved in the ri s k m i ti g a ti o n p r oc ess.
Keywords: Seismic Risk; Risk Mitigation; Alert
Communication; Social Representations; 2009
L’Aquila Earthquake
Despite the availability of a significant number of risk
reduction measures, implementing seismic risk mitiga-
tion is a major challenge in most earthquake-prone coun-
tries. By integrating different theoretical frameworks and
methodologies, ranging from earths sciences to social
sciences, this paper is intended to increase risk awareness
and efficiency of mitigation measures. It would also form
a discussion base among 1) scientists involved in social
activism; and 2) public and private institutions dealing
with general risk mitigation communication and actions.
Italy is a country characterized by high victim/building
collapse/magnitude ratios which have claimed at least
200,000 fatal victims and enormous economic loss in the
last 150 years. In the same period there were 35 seismic
disasters and another 86 earthquakes only a little less
destructive. Italy is a high-risk country, being densely
populated and having high seismicity (Figures 1(a)-(c))
[1]. The highest-hazard areas are across the lesser popu-
lated Apennine chain, from Liguria to Calabria, however
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN ACC ESS
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91 79
some important cities are included in the maxi-
mum-hazard area, such as Rieti, L’Aquila, Isernia, Cam-
pobasso, Potenza, Cosenza, Reggio Calabria. Sicily is a
very seismic area where Messina and Catania were de-
stroyed several time and Palermo also suffered some
destruction. The Southern Alps have also a high seismic-
ity. Along the Adriatic coast, Rimini, Ancona and Foggia
have experienced several severe shocks. Naples province
is very critical, having the highest population density and
additional presence of active volcanoes. By examining
the population density, presence of important cities, his-
torically destructive epicentres and hazard map, it is pos-
sible to get an idea about the associated risk (Figures
1(a)-(c)). Most of the earthquake standards adopted in
the highly seismic Borbone’s Kingdom were cancelled
by the government of the Royal House of Savoy, who
had limited experience of earthquakes. Consequently,
Italy to his unit did not have a seismic legislation. In the
last century, the progress of advances in the awareness of
potential dangers to the implementation of preventive
measures was too small and slow, and the occurrence of
an “unexpected” destructive earthquake changing the
previous rules was the norm. In fact, roles have been
changed mostly after destructive earthquakes (Ta ble 1).
Note the long gap during the economic collapse due to
World War I and the 1929 crisis. During the 50s and 60s,
the Italian economic boom with rapid and mostly uncon-
trollable reconstruction in the post-World War II period
produced millions of new buildings not specifically de-
signed to resist earthquakes. It is apparent that engineer-
ing measures were insufficient, and mitigation measures
were carried out without providing social, cultural and
political awareness of seismic risk. Sufficient mitigation
factors were often ignored because of their economic
cost and loss of immediate profit. So we believe that
earthquake risk mitigation has to pass through social
politics and the cultural preparation of the population.
For this reason it is important to prepare individuals and
institutions for pre- and post-earthquake scenarios.
Earthquake disaster losses can be minimized with the
implementation of appropriate risk mitigation decisions.
Promoting and enhancing citizens’, communities’ and
administrators’ decisions to adopt earthquake risk pre-
paredness measures is essential in order to reduce fatali-
ties, damage to property and infrastructure, and eco-
nomic and social disruption in a seismic disaster [2]. In
this paper we suggest a working protocol of progressive
degrees of alert. Establishing a standard protocol with
more objective and impersonal mitigation choices will
immediately result in a general benefit by reducing con-
flicts between administrators, scientists, politicians and
citizens. This procedure would efficiently inform the
population about hazard, and would avoid panic and in-
direct loss of income and lives.
The city of Aquila suffered extensive damage during
the 2009 earthquake [3-5] (Figure 2). Considering the
moderate magnitude (Ml = 5.8, Mw = 6.2), and even
taking into account the local amplification effect, the
number of 309 fatal victims, with a large peak for the 20 -
24-year range, and 1500 injured (10% severely injured)
is very relevant [6]. Fifty-five university students died,
and according to survivors many had felt reassured, in-
terpreting the foreshocks as positive energy discharges,
as communicated by a spokesman for the Protezione
Civile. Many others had guaranteed that the collapsed
buildings were “solid” and “strong”. Most of the victims
were as a result of the total collapse of seven mul-
ti-storey concrete-reinforced buildings in via Campo di
Fossa 21 n 6 and 6/B, via Cola dell’Amatrice 17, via G.
d’Annunzio 24, Via L. Sturzo 3, via Generale F. Rossi 22,
via Poggio S. Maria 8 and via XX settembre 79, plus the
partial collapse of the university college in the same road.
L’Aquila historical seismicity is also very relevant, with
foreshock sequences so noticeable that they were re-
corded by ancient historians before several destructive
shocks occurred over 700 years [7,8]. Thus, the high fatal
toll may be considered unexpected bearing in mind the
long foreshock sequence, the night time of the earth-
quake and the sparse population distribution. Most of the
victims were in the L’Aquila with 199 deaths, followed
by Onna village with 40 deaths and Villa Sant’Angelo
with 17 deaths. In another 15 localities, 1 to 8 deaths
occurred. Most of the recent multi-storey concrete-rein-
forced buildings underwent critical damage and were
right on the point of collapse (Figure 2). Because the
earthquake struck at night there were no significant
casualties due to fallen architectural elements on the
roads, which would have produced many more casualties
in daylight hours (Figure 2). In addition, public build-
ings, schools and university structures suffered major
damage and collapse. This would have implied a much
higher casualty rate if the earthquake had hit during day-
light. The modern L’Aquila city was built in a very dis-
orderly way, mostly without special precautions against
earthquake; therefore, although the evaluation of seismic
hazard has remained unchanged overtime, the risk was
greatly increased. L’Aquila territory was downgraded
after 2003 (Ordinanza n. 3274) to the second category,
clearly in contrast with the surrounding communities and
its location in the high-hazard area (Figures 3). It was
thought that previous reassuring messages from the Na-
tional Civil Protection Service, in order to avoid panic,
were issued without the support of an efficient risk as-
sessment and efficient mitigation measures. Appeals for
calm, dissemination of information regarding the small
possibility of strong shocks d the invitation to stay an
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN AC CESS
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Figure 1. Simple risk assessment comparing population density (left), destructive historical earthquakes (centre) and hazard map
expressed in terms of expected hard-rock ground acceleration (10% in 50 years) [1].
addressed in the recommendation of the Committee on
Disaster Research in the Social Sciences. Information
based on verifiable facts is thought to be proportional to
the evolution of the event and, gradually given, should be
consistent, clear and understandable. It has to be de-
signed to match the technological, cultural and even
emotional level of the population. It is intended to cap-
ture people’s awareness, as a possible, about prevention
measures without disorientating public opinion and the
media. The goal is to enable the public to accept a nega-
tive event without under- or overestimating it, in the
most effective way to mitigate risk [11]. It must be able
to attract attention without generating irrational panic.
With regard to the issue of communication around an
earthquake, some basic concepts are as not simple as
generally thought, and many professional geologists are
not clear about the difference between some terms and
contribute themselves to generating misunderstandings.
Below, are presented and discussed some of the most
diffuse lexical ambiguity in communication on the earth-
indoors induced many not to leave their houses when
some strong shocks occurred a couple of hours before the
main one on 3.32 am, 6th of April 2009. This may be
considered a substantial modification of the cultural habit
“to run in an open area” when a significant shake was
felt by the Abruzzi population. This change in ancestral
behaviour is interesting but needs to be put in the
framework of the local cultural and psychological sub-
strate related to natural phenomena interpretation [9].
This problem is germane to scientists who have to
communicate the uncertain occurrence probability of a
destructive earthquake to the national or local authorities
[10]. This process is very difficult. Scientists are focused
on hazard. However, disaster reduction is the main object
of the communication and not only the description of the
hazard itself, which remains largely a scientific datum
not usually accounted for by most people, including ad-
ministrative, political and military bodies. For a vulner-
able population and/or goods exposed to geological haz-
ards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and flood-
ing, it is very important to receive correct information as
3.1. Intensity and Magnitude
Often there is confusion about the two ways of evalua-
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91 81
Table 1. Laws and techniques introduced in Italy after strong earthquakes.
earthquake acts and decrees
08 Sept. 1905, Calabria,
Mw 7.1, 609 fatal victims
1907: Royal Decree. First rule on concrete-reinforced buildings. Security is considered as a matter of social
interest, the buildings had to be accompanied by structural calculations. The safety of the structures is assumed
guaranteed if certain rules are observed without prior verification. The structural components must resist to
established levels of tension. Structural calculations are introduced to demonstrate the achievement of security
in compliance with the allowable stresses of materials. The verification of the materials after the execution of
the works is introduced.
28 Dec. 1908, Reggio and
Messina, Calabria-Sicily,
Mw 7.2, 95,000 fatal
13 Jen. 1915,
Marsica-Abruzzo, Mw 7.0,
30,000 fatal victims
23 Jul. 1930,
Irpinia-Campania, 6.7,
1,425 fatal victims
1939: Royal Decree n.2229. Regulations for the execution of simple and reinforced-concrete buildings, testing
of materials, introduction of official laboratories, civil engineers as an organ of control. Improves the other
previous rules.
15 Jan. 1968, Belice
valley-Sicily, Mw 6.1, 370
fatal victims
1971: Technical standards on reinforced concrete, pre-compressed concrete and steel buildings. Construction
has to be made on the basis of a project. Static testing becomes mandatory, civil engineering projects have to
be deposited before the work.
06 Feb. 1971,
4.90, 31 fatal victims
14 Jun. 1972,
Ancona-Marche, Mw 5.40,
no direct victims
1974. Measures for buildings with particular regard to the seismic zones. The rules contain no more prescrip-
tions to follow but they refer to future decrees to be issued in a year.
06 May 1976, Friuli, Mw
6.4, 989 fatal victims
23 Nov. 1980,
Irpinia-Basilicata, Mw 6.9,
2,914 fatal victims
1996: Ministerial Decree 16/01/1996 Technical Standards for buildings in seismic zones. They regulate all
buildings whose safety may be of interest topublic safety. Buildings in: concrete, ordinary and reinforced
masonry, mixed structures, panel structures, wooden structures, any alteration action on existing buildings.
26 Sept. 1997,
Colfiorito-Umbria Mw 6.05,
11 fatal victims
31 Oct. 2002 San
Giuliano-Molise, Mw 5.8,
28 fatal victims
2003 (Ordinance No. 3274). New land classification in 4 seismic zones based on maximum ground accelera-
tion (solid rock). Zone 1 = 0.35 g, zone 2 = 0.25 g, zone 3 = 0.15 g, zone 4 = 0.05 g (non-seismic).
14/09/2005: Technical standards for construction. (In fact used only for public works) SAFETY ORDER
14/09/2005. Security is always evaluated in probabilistic terms. Concept of use life, period of time in which
the structure, subject to routine maintenance, should be used for its intended purpose.
06 Apr. 2009,
Aquila-Abruzzo, Mw 6.2,
307 fatal victims
14/01/2008: New technical standards for construction in force from 05/03/2008 to 30/06/2010 extended to
01/07/2009 for anticipated seismic event. Define the principles for the design, construction and testing of
construction with regard to performance requirements in terms of mechanical strength and stability, even in
case of fire, and durability. All new building category and materials. 05/02/2009 Explanatory Circular No. 617
defines local seismic hazard- and seism-resistant characteristics of the buildings. Nominal life of the building
has to be declared. About pre-existing buildings (Art. 8 DM 14/01/2008), requires construction history and
details, geometry, uniformity and quality of materials used, load, and should be subject to verification of the
resistance to environmental action, construction errors, change of use, and the potential to achieve the level of
safety by alterations. Improvements are structural safety measure applications, and many others.
ting an earthquake: intensity and magnitude. Also, the
different intensity and magnitude scales are confusing for
the public. Intensity is evaluated by increasing degrees of
the Mercalli-Cancani-Sieberg Scale (MCS, 1930) or si-
milar scales (i.e. Rossi-Forel, Medvedev-Sponheuer-Kar-
nik, Shindo and Liedu). Intensity scales describe the av-
erage effects on people, environment and buildings in a
given geographical locality. Intensity depends on
ground-shaking motion and generally decreases with
distance from the epicentre, but it also depends on effects
due to local geological features, the materials used in
buildings, the quality of those materials, and building
design. Magnitude is a semi-quantitative measure of the
energy or size of the earthquake at the source. The mag-
nitude remains the same regardless of the distance from
the epicentre but can be estimated in various ways. The
Richter magnitude (Ml) is based on the maximum am-
plitude recorded by a Wood-Anderson seismograph, lo-
cated within a conventional distance from the epicentre
[12]. Each 10-fold increase in the amplitude of seismic
waves with a frequency of about 1 Hz corresponds to an
increase of one unit of magnitude. On the other hand, the
moment magnitude (Mw) is related to the earthquake
rupture (fault area, fault dislocation) and the elastic shear
modulus of the rocks in the source region. Each increase
of one order of magnitude implies an increase in energy
of about 30 times greater. This makes the total amount of
energy released by foreshocks and aftershocks negligible
compared to a high-magnitude (>6.5) main event in
which most of the energy is released. In Italy, the epicen-
tral damage threshold is considered to be M 5.5, but even
lower M has caused loss of numerous human lives and
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN AC CESS
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91
Figure 2. Damage in concrete-reinforced buildings at L’Aquila,
2009 Earthquake (photo F. Stoppa).
extensive damage, i.e. the Tuscania earthquakes of 1971,
Mw 4.9 (Table 1).
3.2. Hazard and Risk
The deterministic methods (Deterministic Seismic Ha-
zard Analysis acr. DSHA) calculate the values of ground
motions expected as a result of an earthquake of refer-
ence, usually the largest earthquake magnitude of all the
considered faults/sources in the region, which supersedes
all the smaller magnitudes and is most impactful for the
site/area for all the time established for the area sur-
rounding the site investigation. A deterministic approach
is not actually used in Italy or in many countries today,
for various reasons, even though it is the traditional
method still used in California [13,14]. The probabilistic
approach (Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis, acr.
PSHA) tries to approximate ground shaking produced by
various earthquake sources. The assumptions are that
earthquakes occur randomly in time, that the likelihood
of occurrence within a given area is the same at every
point, and that combining magnitudes by mathematical
integration is physically meaningful for defining hazard.
On the whole, PSHA focuses on how often a chosen
threshold earthquake will occur, while DSHA focuses on
how large the next credible earthquake will be, but not
when it will occur. Risk is a concept that links the hazard
(translated in Italian as pericolosità) to the value as well
as the vulnerability of property and human lives exposed
to that hazard. Of the three parameters that contribute
substantially to the risk, we can take action only on vul-
nerability because we cannot efficiently decrease the
value exposed and we certainly cannot change the hazard
implicit in the geological nature of an area. Notably, a
low hazard in a vulnerable populated area can correspond
to a big risk. When an earthquake occurs, the consequence
is that structures (buildings, bridges, industrial plants, dams
etc.) are subjected to shaking and may be damaged or
collapse. If they are designed or reinforced to withstand
that force, the structure will perform well and so struc-
tural vulnerability can be reduced [15]. However, ground
failure by liquefaction or deformation cannot be elimi-
nated and is a serious problem for new residential and
trade areas built on alluvial soils (e.g. the case of Emilia
Earthquake of 2012). Thus, it is equally important to
know which structures may experience failure because
they are not specially reinforced or have other vulner-
abilities. In fact, risk is never zero in populated areas. If
structural vulnerability cannot be reduced efficiently,
then it is important to inform the population about the
possible occurrence of an earthquake.
3.3. Prediction and Prevision
The prediction of an earthquake is the act of announ-
cing in advance the place, date and time of occurrence of
a future event. In the Italian language, this term (predizi-
one) is tied to the inspirations of a supernatural phenol-
menon or clairvoyance. In many cases a prediction is
linked to a prophecy. However, due to the influence of
the English term “prediction”, the word is now ambigu-
ously used to indicate a forecast based on scientific cal-
culations which in Italian should be called “prevision”,
i.e. previsioni meteorologiche = “weather forecasts” and
not predizioni meteorologiche. The prediction of earth-
quakes is based on a series of assessments related to 1)
the seismic history of the area; 2) its geological structure
(probabilistic prediction); 3) specific distributions of
energy released; 4) the number of events; 5) their posi-
tion in the seismic-genetic structure (deterministic pre-
diction); and 6) the presence of seismic precursors. Pre-
dictions suffer a lot of limitations and approximation
depends on purpose and subjectivity, and varies with
type of research, application, experience and judgment.
Points 1 and 2, historical information is often lacunose;
many active seism-genetic structures are hidden under-
ground or undetected before they became active. Points 3,
4 and 5, the Gutenberg-Richter equation, could be built
on inadequate data: the geometry and size of a fault
could be unknown. Point 6, the significance of specific
precursors, such as radon and other gases, and electro-
magnetic phenomena is heavly under debate or has not i
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN ACC ESS
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Figure 3. Maximum intensity felt during historical earthquakes in Abruzzi in terms of MCS scale (top left), classification
of Abruzzi in terms of seismic category (top right), hazard distribution in terms of hard-rock ground acceleration expressed
in g% expected in 50 years with 10% probability (bottom left), epicentres of historical earthquakes above the damage
threshold (bottom right) [1].
been well studied by the scientific community, and its
adoption may generate some confusion at this point due
to inaccuracy, uncertainty and variation.
An alert is based on gradual objective information about
threat, and its function is to increase the awareness of
citizens and institutions to allow them to put in place
measures proportional to the alert degree so as to de-
crease the risk in the long and short term. Unfortunately,
in a society not culturally prepared to accept natural haz-
ards, many people confuse the benefits of alert with
paralyzing scaremongering. In this regard, it would be
good to clarify the different meanings of the two words
which are commonly used not in a proper way.
3.4. Alert and Alarm
We basically have to realise and make clear that alarm
is a sudden loud announcement intended to attract atten-
tion to an event that is unlikely to occur and for which
there is not a clear estimation of its risk. The Italian Penal
Code, Article 658, says that “Anyone who announces di-
sasters, accidents or non-existent dangers, raises the
alarm with the authorities, or with institutions or persons
exercising a public service, shall be punished by imprison-
ment up to six months or a fine of between 10 to 516€”.
3.5. Risk Management
For a simple understanding of the factors that consti-
tute risk it is worth recalling the fable of the “Three Little
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91
Pigs”—a simple example that can be used for people at
large and children first. In this fable, the wolf is the haz-
ard, the construction materials of the piglets’ houses and
their behaviour are the vulnerability, and the endangered
value is the homes and the lives of the piglets. Many
ideas can be considered for risk reduction, but a substan-
tial reduction is always linked to vulnerability. The
wolf’s desire to eat the piglets is unchangeably implicit
in its nature; the houses already exist and the piglets’
behaviour can only be modified when they know about
their houses’ weakness. In fact, the piglets run to and
shut themselves in the brick house, which is able to
withstand the mighty breath of the wolf, and thus they
survive without any other damage beyond losing their
straw and wooden houses. An acceptable price. There are
some cases in which action can be taken, though contro-
versial, the hazard. A case history could be the attempt to
divert lava flows issued by the Etna volcano in Sicily.
The long-lasting eruption in 1983 occurred with the
emission of 100 million cubic metres of lava, destroying
the Etna cable car and sports facilities. The eruption ap-
peared to be quite unpredictable, with many lava tunnels
and the emergence of lava flowing downstream, which
brought fear to the outskirt towns of Ragalna, Belpasso
and Nicolosi. This attempt generated much controversy
and disagreement among scientists. After previous failed
attempts to block the lava by dropping large concrete
Friesian horses from helicopters into 'pit falls' of the lava
tunnels, dozens and dozens of stoves to allow the explo-
sive charges to enter the lava flow banks were applied
with considerable difficulty given the high temperatures
that managed to ruin the drill bits. The flow was partially
diverted but the eruption ceased shortly after anyway.
The cost of the operation was about 30 billion Italian lire.
The lives of many military personnel were put in serious
jeopardy. The endangered value was much lower than the
30 billion spent, and the scientific meaning of the lava
detour was much less than the lives of the Explosive
Ordnance Disposal personnel and the helicopters that
were severely endangered during operations. Many felt
this was an unacceptable price. Beyond this, it seems
conceptually wrong to try to act on the hazard since the
risk was not significantly reduced, while the money spent
could have been used to decrease the systemic vulner-
ability of the area by possibly relocating some home
properties at a higher level.
4.1. Theoretical Model about Attitudes
and Behaviours
Much of the planning and preparation for earthquake
mitigation is done by seismologists, geologists, engineers,
architects and public officials. Once the threat of an
earthquake is established, these experts must try to obtain
broader community support for programmes and projects.
In this context, each choice may represent a compromise
(compared to the maximum technically possible standard
of seismic mitigation), considering both the constraints
and supports of the context in which the decision-making
process occurs. Public support for any new policy is
critical; therefore, examination of citizens’ attitudes to-
ward earthquake risk reduction actions in the context of
their perception of the earthquake risk should assist
policymakers in obtaining public support and designing
an effective risk management and information pro-
gramme [16]. It has long been recognized that it is psy-
chological elements which guide people’s responses to a
particular hazard rather than the estimates provided by
experts. For this reason, knowledge of the psychological
mechanism of risk perception and the factors contribut-
ing to the generally low level of earthquake preparedness
that have been found among residents living in regions
that experience high levels of earthquake activity [17-19]
may help those who design and target preparedness in-
terventions. The literature on risk perception and com-
munication suggests that there are a number of reasons
why health warnings are often not heeded or acted upon
by the public [20]. These include message features (am-
biguity of risk information or the actions needed to
overcome risk), poor communicator abilities, personal
characteristics of the audience (prior experiences, per-
sonality traits, cognitive biases, attitudes toward personal
vulnerability, distrust of authorities), and social influ-
ences through the media and informal social networks
[20-22]. In particular, [23,24] has consistently demon-
strated that there are many factors that influence the per-
ception of risk—among them, the salience of risk issues,
the information provided by the mass media and the way
in which they are presented. These factors, and whether a
risk is perceived to be involuntary, potentially catastro-
phic or uncontrolled, are more important determinants of
public response than the risk estimates provided by ex-
perts. Psychological research has also indicated the par-
ticular importance of approach in risk perception. If, in
some cases, heuristics can simplify the mental operations,
sometimes they can lead to systematic errors with serious
implications for risk assessment and decision making.
The systematic errors in the assessment of risk are often
accompanied by a lack of willingness of individuals to
question their own judgements. The interpretative para-
digm in the psychology of risk perception allows, for
those who plan general strategies for preventive inter-
vention, some of the factors that regulate the response to
psychological risk factors and the decision to implement
preventive measures to be known. The way people per-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN ACC ESS
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91 85
ceive the risk of an earthquake influences their prepara-
tion for the event. In general, the probability of adopting
preventive behaviour depends on both the perception of
the probability that a given event will occur and an as-
sessment of the severity of the event. According to the
Health Belief Model [25], the probability that a person
will adopt preventive measures depends on the percep-
tion of vulnerability and the severity of the threat, so the
subject could have a realistic perception of a threat, but
underestimate the personal risk. In the Theory of Planned
Behaviour [26], a person’s readiness to behave in a given
way depends on attitude toward the behaviour, subjective
norms and the perceived behavioural control. It refers to
people’s perceptions of their ability to perform a given
behaviour. In general, all these models emphasize the
role of attitudes and beliefs in determining behaviour.
Control beliefs have to do with the perceived presence of
factors that may facilitate or impede manner of behaviour.
The issue of control seems to be crucial for understand-
ing behaviours in the face of risks. For example, [27,28]
proposed that individuals experiencing an external threat
are likely to take action to reduce the threat, but only if
they see the event as controllable. If the threat is seen as
uncontrollable, people are more likely to resort to other
means of coping, including cognitive avoidance and de-
nial. Extrapolating this view to earthquake preparation,
several researchers have found that people who live in
earthquake-prone areas tend to deny and minimize the
seriousness of earthquake risk when they believe that
little can be done to mitigate the danger [26]. Even if
unrealistic optimism could be positively adaptive, pro-
ducing positive mental health effects [29], the denial of
danger can lead people to ignore risks and not to adopt
measures for risk mitigation [30]. In line with these em-
pirical evidences and theoretical models, the risk com-
munication field has gradually changed and moved from
expecting that providing the public with clear informa-
tion about risk was all that was needed for action to occur,
to a recognition that adoption requires greater attention
to these personal and social factors [31]. There has been
an acknowledgement that telling people about health and
environmental dangers is not likely to lead to risk-re-
ducing behaviours without attention to social influences
and the reasons why people are motivated to ignore or
minimize threatening messages.
4.2. Improving Social Trust and Public
Support for Earthquake Mitigation
Model about Attitudes and Behaviour
Theoretical models and research on perception and so-
cial representation of risk thus indicate the need for an
approach that combines direct and objective assessment
of risk factors by incorporating the psycho-social proc-
esses in judging hazard and all the factors that influence
the formation of behavioural intentions. In contrast, an
approach focused only on objective hazard factors is
inadequate when the phenomena involve human deci-
sions. Despite the importance of the contribution of re-
search on psychological mechanisms of risk, according
to [32] it is important not to reify the concept of risk
perception as an explanatory construct in a way that does
not take into account other factors which should be in-
corporated into theoretical models used to explain public
responses, such as ethical concerns, trust and distrust (in
science, scientific institutions, risk regulators and infor-
mation providers) and perceptions of social exclusion
from risk management processes. Public trust in science
and scientific institutions has not only declined in Italy
since the 1950s [32]. This cultural shift in public atti-
tudes towards science and technology has its roots in
safety and risk: people question the extent and the impact
on the natural world order and express a preference for
societal decisions which favour risk aversion. According
to [31], this is “partly due to increased economic afflu-
ence and educational level allowing people to develop
the confidence to question the appropriateness of scien-
tific development, and to demand increased democratiza-
tion of scientific processes” (p. 569). With regard to pub-
lic support and engagement in earthquake risk mitigation,
trust in institutions and information sources may be as
important as risk communication in determining public
responses. Consideration of the extent to which a source
is trusted or distrusted is very important if people’s atti-
tudes are not yet crystallized, as this information may
influence the direction of attitude change. Source effects
are likely to be more important for environmental haz-
ards, where people perceive that they have very little
personal control over exposure to the hazard. Increasing
transparency in risk management processes, and the need
to improve public trust, is likely to increase public par-
ticipation in risk management itself [16]. Reference [33]
specified some criteria for benchmarking the effective-
ness of public participation exercises, which fall into two
categories: acceptance criteria (related to public accep-
tance of a procedure) and process criteria (related to the
effective construction and implementation of a proce-
dure). Acceptance criteria include the criterion of repre-
sentativeness, which addresses the need for participants
to be representative of the broader public, rather than
some groups the criterion of independence which ad-
dresses the need for unbiased management of the par-
ticipation process the criterion of early involvement
which refers to the stage at which the public should be
involved in policy matters the criterion influence which
implies that the output should have a genuine impact on
policy and the criterion of transparency which implies
that the wider public can see what is going on and how
decisions are being made. Process criteria refer to re-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN AC CESS
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91
source accessibility, task definition, structured decision
making and cost-effectiveness. Operationalizing these
criteria will ensure the evaluation of a procedure and
compare the effectiveness of different procedures at dif-
ferent times and in different situations. There are evi-
dences that increased efforts to involve the public in the
risk management process are likely to be the best way to
address issues associated with perceptions of social ex-
clusion and to obtain public support for earthquake miti-
gation programs [32]. What has been learned from public
health campaigns is that while media campaigns often
influence the topics that receive attention in group dis-
cussions, how people actually behave depends more on
informal social influence and interpersonal factors than
on the content of media messages. Panel data collected in
I991 as part of the University of Southern California
Longitudinal Study of Generations (LSOG) were used to
predict reported preparation activities prior to and in re-
sponse to the 1994 Northridge, California, earthquake.
With regard to earthquake preparation activity, the results
highlight that actual preparation practices depend more
on interpersonal factors, such as the frequency with
which earthquake preparation is encouraged or discour-
aged by network members [34]. While media messages
are important sources of information about what needs to
be done, organizing informal networks for action fol-
low-ups has been found to be an important step in pro-
moting and reinforcing adoption of new behaviours. That
lesson was learned in a number of health campaigns
[35-37] and applies as well to earthquake preparation. A
community should familiarize themselves with the adop-
tion of a protocol. The adoption should also be based on
a participatory process aimed at developing disaster-
resistant community and inspired by the principles set
out in Section 4.2
The choice of actions to be taken by authorities during
a pre-earthquake emergency, as well as deciding when to
begin the emergency itself, must be guided by an objec-
tive process related to the study of an agreed-upon pro-
tocol for action and communication phases. The scenario
of alert degrees cannot derive directly from authoritative
seismic classification of the administrative territory
which is influenced by political and economic bias vs.
research project (Figure 3). The national seismic hazard
map (Figure 1(c)) is relatively intractable, and often
more maps for different applications are needed. It is
standardized on hard rock with a maximum peak ground
acceleration (PGA) of only 0.3 g for Zone 1 and thus
must be adjusted for engineering and local seismic re-
sponse. Map developers are not responsible if an earth-
quake exceeds predicted parameters and, most impor-
tantly, emphasize how often or when an earthquake may
occur instead of how big the earthquake will be. Large
earthquakes may occur in the absence of notable precur-
sors, even if this is very unlikely [38,39]. Due to the
variability of preparation signs of an impending earth-
quake, geological as well as seismological models have
often been proven to be inadequate and a principle of
caution must always be adopted. This cognitive action
takes the form of active and democratic participation of
all socio-economic and cultural components by commu-
nication, decision making and organization so as to miti-
gate the risk by reducing vulnerability. The economic
cost of prevention is relevant but the benefits are im-
mense in the case of damaging/destructive/catastrophic
earthquakes. Political leaders or decision makers have to
be convinced that what seems to be an improbable event
may occur at any moment, producing a devastat-
ing/catastrophic effect. The population has to be prepared
to consider anti-seismic measures and the application of
protocols as a social priority. It is thought that a scientific
committee has to issue hazard evaluation, however
probabilistic methods adopted in Italy do not consider
rapid variation of precursors though too problematic to
define/identify. If the national commission or local re-
gional scientific committee has to express its opinions,
this should be done in real time. Constantly following the
event recordings will make it possible to pass from one
level of an alert to another. This seems unlikely and some
“impersonal” automatism is needed. In this paper, we
illustrate some possible measures designed for risk miti-
gation through gradual evaluation of preparing for a po-
tential earthquake in four alert stages. Progressive pas-
sage from one level of alert to another, up to the main
event, is established and represented by the colours green,
yellow, orange and red (Tables 2-5). Note that the im-
portance of measures taken from the green level to the
red decreases as a function of the time available to
achieve them. The progression may not be regular in
some cases and passing to a higher level is not indicative
of definite progression to the next one. It is also possible
to come back from red alert to green alert and vice versa.
The costs in terms of loss of income are inversely pro-
portional to the colour scale in cases of non-earthquake.
So it is valuable because only red measures will produce
a relevant loss of income in the case of non-earthquake.
The factors uses in preparing this protocol could be con-
sidered somewhat empirical and superficial if related
solely to hazard. However, at the scale of risk considered
here, they are very efficient if applied correctly. They
have to be adapted to the local situation, taking into ac-
count the general lines expressed in Section 4. We are
aware that most people will consider this protocol sim-
plistic but it is intended to stimulate discussion about its
necessity and, hopefully, it could be improved in the near
uture about attitudes and behaviours. f
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN ACC ESS
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN AC CESS
Table 2. Green (no alert).
Conditions (one or more)
Area already classified as seismic by historical, geological or whatever else evidence of past relevant seismicity.
Probabilistically earthquakes expected in the medium- and long-term period (10 - 50 years).
Area in a defined seismic box.
Maximum earthquake and risk scenario known.
Specific studies indicate that probabilistic approach could be optimistic.
Local geology implies relevant site effect of amplification.
There are facts which suggest increased risk, for example other natural or anthropic hazards have been detected.
Some specific vulnerability has been detected.
What to do (public)
Structures have to be adapted to current local hazard category and/or to withstand current codified peak ground acceleration,
Supplementary measures have to be taken according to the seismic microzonation (site effect).
Structures and infrastructure (bridges, embankments, tunnels, etc.) have to be checked and reinforced.
The use of geologically hazardous areas (landslides, faults, escarpments, liquefiable soils, etc.) for 'human occupancy’
structures has to be prohibited.
A clear zone around dangerous industry and dams has to be established.
“Critical” buildings: hospitals and public offices, schools and colleges, sports facilities and recreational places, cinemas and
theatres, hotels, etc have to be checked and improved for public safety. Some of these are planned to be suitably converted into
refugee shelters.
Scholars and employees in schools, museums and other public buildings, commercial centres and major industries should be
given training.
Clear instruction on how to behave and response to an emergency has to be disseminated.
Monumental heritage has to be reinforced.
Suspended and heavy elements have to be secured in offices and public buildings (e.g. museums, churches).
New installation of dangerous critical facilities like nuclear power plants, chemical plants and oil industry etc be prohibited,
Public announcement should not necessarily be issued.
The procedure indicated in green “a” has to be made more efficient and rapid.
More restrictive use of particularly vulnerable areas has to be established.
A specific communication has to be designed to stimulate citizens to take supplementary measures to those in “a”.
The specific formation of civil defence structure and of volunteers has to be intensified.
What to do (private)
a. = b.
Learn what the precursors of an earthquake are and what the seismic history of the place where you live is.
Learn how to behave and act before, during and after an earthquake.
Check 1) whether your home or office is earthquake-proof; 2) whether the structure can withstand earthquake impact without
collapsing i.e. the maximum stress expected in that place; 3) if it has structural weaknesses or failures; and 4) if it is equipped
with safety equipments.
Check whether the foundation soil is solid (solid rock) or inconsistent (loose soil soaked in water).
See whether you may be exposed to landslides and any kind of floods triggered by earthquake such as, dam failure, river dam
breakage, and lake and sea tsunamis.
Whether the building is in an area at risk of landslide or flood, is founded on liquefiable soils and is not earthquake-proof,
consider seriously moving to a higher level or safer area.
Do social activism and participate in first aid and other safety training.
5.1. Green (No Alert)
Conditions used to assess the green level (Table 2) are
largely based on general geology and seismicity (paleo-
seismology, permanent fault displacement, earthquake
recurrence, earthquake probability, calculated ground
motion acceleration) of an area used to construct earth-
quake hazard maps. Problems may arise from incomplete
numbers and type of active faults, their dip, width and
slip rate which may still not be completely available at
this level. Action to undertake is different but relates to
engineering and land use associated with risk evaluation,
aimed at reducing future damage and at general public
safety. In preparing critical structures (bridges, schools,
hospitals etc.) it is necessary to incorporate site response
and design spectrum shape/level as a function of maxi-
mum credible earthquake magnitude. As a conservative
criterion, the geographical distribution of the alert should
be related to the peak acceleration produced by the near-
est maximum credible earthquake and consideration of
the local effect and seismic propagation.
5.2. Yellow (Alert Prepara tion)
Conditions used to assess the yellow level (Table 3)
imply a revision and update of general information made
available on the green level of the local seismicity and
geology which incorporates new information and
knowledge from ongoing local seismicity. Emerging new
technology should be used to update local knowledge on
Late Quaternary faults (active-dormant). Dip, width and
type of these faults have to be thoroughly analysed and
also deep-seated or blind faults may be discovered or
hypothesized. Refine magnitude estimates using regional
empirical fault parameter-magnitude relationships. Use
both empirical data and simulated ground motion esti-
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91
Table 3. Yellow (alert preparation).
Conditions (one or more)
a. High probability of earthquakes in 5 - 10 years, micro-seismicity in the box.
Discontinuous seismic swarms lasting months or years.
b. Any indication of precursors “a”.
New data about increased hazard or risk with respect to “a”.
What to do (public)
(a = b)
Efficiency of response to evacuation plans has to be checked frequently.
Emergency phone numbers of principals, volunteers, associations etc. have to be disseminated.
Emergency training has to be intensified.
Ad hoc area access and evacuation ways have to be established and permanently indicated by signs, a quick information system
and alternative ways (via mobile phones, permanent or mobile loudspeakers, mails, radio and televisions).
Future tent location areas have to be equipped and refurbished.
Suitable facilities for shelters, vital and food supplies etc. have to be identified.
Contingency plans have to be displayed in large public facilities.
Communicate the status of pre-warning: “It is likely that over a period of several months or years a stronger earthquake shock
may occur; let us organize according to the protocols previously distributed.”
What to do (private)
(a = b)
Study and share a common plan with your family, adapt it to different situations, home, school, work, day/night.
Establish a safer place to stay during an earthquake, an escape route, a meeting point near your home or another place in which
to converge automatically if family members are separated.
Check that the workplace and school emergency services are efficient and carry out regular and effective training.
Make social activism because the authorities draw up contingency plans and means of warning and civil protection.
Table 4. Orange (pre-alert).
Conditions (one or more)
a. Frequent discrete swarms of low-magnitude events, some are felt, plus some felt shocks (M between 3 and 4) in the seismic box
for weeks or days, the population is alarmed.
Any escalation in suspected precursors “a”, including stronger M shakes, or new data about increased hazard or risk with respect to
“a”. The presence of some other suspected precursor is significant and the alert degree should pass to level b, and should not be
reduced even if precursors diminish for a short period. What to do (public).
What to do (public)
a = b
Public buildings which are unsafe for providing alternative locations (schools, etc.) have to be evacuated.
The level of reservoirs has to be within safe limits.
Activities involving the arrival from outside of sporting events, conventions, fairs, elections, etc. have to be suspended or de-
Efficiency and safety measures have to be tested for water, gas pipelines, power lines, overpasses, etc.
First aid and water/food supply have to be accumulated in safe and accessible sites.
Communicate that: “It is possible that within some weeks or months a strong shock or very strong earthquake may occur; let us
organize according to the protocols previously distributed.”
What to do (private)
Secure the premises where you stay or work and devote particular care to the place where your children play or study.
Sleep in a safer area of the house.
Look around to find heavy and/or sharp objects that might fall on you or explode or cause fire or flooding, such as furniture,
ornaments, lamps, mirrors, appliances, water heaters, boilers, tanks, etc. Remove them from the area where you sleep or stay
and fix them firmly, including pipes and electrical wiring.
Switch off gas and electricity installations if not in use.
Learn to communicate via emergency phone numbers by only giving necessary information without clogging the lines with
unnecessary comments.
mates for continuity and confidence in practice. When in
doubt, stay on the conservative side and avoid over ana-
lyses. Maximum credible earthquake should be used as a
starting source model for ground motion simulations.
New specific attenuation curves have to be prepared.
Action to undertake relates to evaluation of usefulness
and effectiveness of the structural resistance of crucial
facilities. Most of the actions adopted in the yellow alert
level are germane to land and social governance and are
mostly long-term bias measures.
GIS technology can be used to program management
of an emergency both before and after the earthquake.
Complementary tasks are assigned equally to the public
sector and private citizens. There is considerable time to
carry out the measures that should be provided for yel-
low level while it is uncertain.
5.3. Orange (Pre-Alert)
Conditions used to assess orange alert (Table 4) imply
an increase in the seismic activity and presence of other
precursors. Additionally, “a” and “b” subcategories could
be introduced. In fact, “b” factors and/or precursors can
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN ACC ESS
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91 89
Table 5. Red (alert).
Conditions (one or more)
Some widely felt shocks (M 4) in a week, rapid increase in seismic energy release in the box, significant increase in seismic-
ity rate r (events/day), clustering of foci and decrease/change in b-value [40].
Seismic pause.
The possible presence of other precursors: radon and/or geophysical and geochemical anomalies and/or ground deformation
and/or greenhouse gas and/or turbidity and changes in the level of water in the wells. These phenomena may or may not be
present; if present they are very significant, if not present they do not decrease the alarm degree.
What to do (public)
The state of alert has to go to full level.
Shows and markets have to move to open-air locations or completely safe buildings.
Gatherings indoors (churches, theatres, stadiums, sports arenas, etc.) have to be avoided.
Schools have to be closed, hazardous industrial activities close or reduce activity.
Support staff has to be alerted.
A network of emergency communications has to be established.
Procedures of public emergency have to be established.
Shelters have to be prepared.
Communicate that: “It is possible that in a few days time a ruinous or disastrous earthquake shock may occur; let us organize
according to the protocols previously distributed.”
What to do (private)
“a = b”
Prepare an emergency box and keep it in a safe and accessible place, for example your car parked away from falling objects: it
must contain not only basic necessities such as blankets, canned food, water, medicines, money, first aid, flashlights, but also a
crowbar, large shears, a fire extinguisher, a pickaxe, gloves and emergency signals, etc.
In case of a strong shake, be vigilant and careful, do not scream, huddle under protection (table, bed, etc.) near you if you
cannot reach a safer place. Outside be extremely cautious about falling masonry. Identify sources of danger.
Wait until the shock has ceased and carefully exit to open space, paying attention to elements that can collapse, such as walls,
balcony, cables and gas leaks.
Do not use or approach elevators and watch out for floors and stairs that have collapsed especially in the dark.
Do not try to turn on lights or open flames. Protect your mouth and nose with a cloth to avoid inhaling dust.
Help those in trouble and calm those who are panicking.
be present or not present, can be recorded or not recorded,
being less predictable, and passage to “b” is not required
to go to the next level.
Problem is the uncertainty about whether a near de-
structive earthquake may occur or not.
Action to undertake relates to evaluation of usefulness
and effectiveness of social protection measures including
emergency management, insurance and evacuation. The
population is consistently instructed about how to be-
5.4. Red (Alert)
Conditions used to assess red alert (Table 5) imply in-
creased specific preparation signals [40] and change of
physical parameters and presence of other precursors.
Their study is worthwhile with a proportional effort from
the scientific community, even if it has been noted that
long-term prevention is more effective.
Problem in communication is due to previous insuffi-
cient information. The size of evacuation and numbers of
refugees are a measure of lack of previous mitigation
action. Action to undertake relates to evacuation from
unsafe structures and inhibition of any activity that could
increase the vulnerability. Special safety is adopted. The
population should know that any infringement in taken at
its own risk.
The L’Aquila earthquake of 6 April 2009, and its dis-
astrous consequences, has stimulated many minds to a
review process of forecasting methods and assessment of
risk in Italy and elsewhere. It is now clear that in many
civilized countries prevention measures are applied only
to a fraction of what can be done, as many old structures
cannot be successfully converted to anti-seismic struc-
tures and land modification costs are too high and eco-
nomically and culturally unrealistic. This fact suggests
that only proper preparation and communication based
on sound forecasting methods can be used to mitigate the
risk through the reduction of social vulnerability. The
analysis of the Italian situation, extendable to many other
countries, allows us to state that the success of risk miti-
gation measures is not directly related to hazard evalua-
tion. However, a merely probabilistic approach may be
too optimistic, and some deterministic tightening is nec-
essary to adapt to high-hazard analysis of the systemic
vulnerability of Italian cities. Hazard evaluation methods
and anti-seismic norms seem inappropriate to the situa-
tion of Italian buildings since many concrete-reinforced
buildings totally collapsed during the earthquake of
moderate magnitude at L’Aquila, claiming an extremely
high number of fatalities. Social vulnerability mitigation
and disaster-resilient communities depend very much on
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN AC CESS
F. Stoppa, C. Berti / Natural Science 5 (2013) 78-91
interpretation of communication issued, based not only
on hazard and risk assessment but also on common sense
and, even, on irrational behaviour produced by social
representation. A too optimistic communication issued to
avoid panic as well as repeated unnecessary alarms in-
crease vulnerability. Even if necessary, it is not enough to
try to influence risk perceptions through a proper com-
munication alone; increasing public trust in the risk
management process is crucial if effective policy about
risk management should be developed. Independently
from the seismic classification of the territory, an alert
protocol should be adopted and conservative communi-
cation should be issued if an evolution of increased seis-
micity of the area is seen or even only feared. An effi-
cient protocol has to fill the gap between scientific data
and people’s psychological and cultural sensibility and
interpretation. Appropriate communication associated with
the use of a protocol has the task of stimulating benefi-
cial progressive alert, allowing people to take additional
personal safety measures
We are greatly indebted with Professor Lalliana Mualchin for his
suggestion and manuscript revision. We thank an anonymous referee
for constructive criticism
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