Hazardous Living: Geologists to be charged for not predicting earthquake?

by Megan Sever
Thursday, January 5, 2012

Megan Sever (pictured at Yellowstone) writes Hazardous Living for EARTH. Megan Sever

News out of Italy suggests that seven researchers who did not predict the L’Aquila earthquake in April 2009 are under formal investigation and may be charged with gross negligent manslaughter.

A news report suggests that these researchers — seismologists and senior members of Italy’s Civil Protection Department (pdf) and the National Geophysics and Vulcanology Institute (INGV) — are being investigated based on their statements to the Major Risks Committee (part of the Civil Protection Department) on March 31, 2009, that a series of small earthquakes (none over magnitude 4.0) over the previous six months did not mean that a large earthquake was imminent. The Civil Protection Department and the Major Risks Committee are supposed to forecast possible risks and make recommendations on how to prevent danger from earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, forest fires and other natural hazards.

Less than a week later, the magnitude-6.3 earthquake struck L’Aquila, killing 308 people and razing much of the medieval city. Now, L’Aquila’s chief prosecutor says that the scientists should have told people to evacuate L’Aquila after the tremors because a major earthquake was imminent.

So if I get this right, they’re saying the seismologists should have predicted the earthquake, told people to evacuate and kept them out until a major earthquake struck. And because they didn’t, they should be held liable. Are you kidding? Wonder what they’ll do about the geologist who did predict the earthquake, who they initially silenced?

God help us if this is the new standard.\

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