On Monday 22nd October, six Italian scientists and an ex-government official were sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly giving 'false reassuances' to the public. It is claimed this statement resulted in the deaths of over 300 people in a 6.3 magnitude earthquake that devastated L'Aquila in the Abruzzo region of Italy, 2009.
One of the great things about Nature Live and our daytime programme is that when an exciting piece of news hits, we can respond immediately. By end of play that day, I was narrowing down the heavyweight scientific authorities on the subject of natural disasters and risk management. Through our network of contributing scientists I came across Professor David Alexander from University College London, an expert in disaster risk and response. Not only had he worked with all the scientists in question but had family roots in Italy and exceptional knowledge of the Italian judicial system. We met and developed the event for the Friday.
The event ran to a packed audience, as broad as any you could find in London on a typical day. When questioned by the audience on whether the case highlighted a failure of science or communication he cited both as contributors. 'Arrogance and irresponsibility was at the heart of the advice they'd offered'. His first hand knowledge of the appeal system in Italy, however, led him to believe the scientists would avoid serving these prison sentences. He elaborated too, on how the failure was also in the authorities lack of sufficient infrastrucure to support those injured or homeless from the effects of the earthquake, a sobering conclusion to why perhaps this reassurance was also made.
On a lighter note, did he use animal behaviour to study seismic activity? 'Yes!' He said enthusiastically. 'I've consulted some interesting toad data in my time!'
Thanks to Musuem Scientific Associate Brian Rosen, for contacting us to provide this image from his time in L'Aquila, seven months after the earthquake.