On 24 October 2012 the Italian court convicted seven persons, all prominent scientists or disaster experts, to six years in prison regarding the earthquake on 6 April 2006 which killed more than 300 persons in and around L' Aquila town, Central Italy. This news ran around the world quickly through mass-media. Many ISN members may know this well.
Japanese newspapers covered the case as follows : Small tremors continued for months before the earthquake; Some scientists warned of a possible big earthquake; Civil Protection Agency of the Government convened "High Risk Committee" on 31 March, which concluded that the small tremors would not be a sign of a big earthquake although such a risk could not be "zero"; Based on this conclusion, Civil Protection Agency announced "people can stay in the house without worrying about the earthquake"; People had been wondering whether to evacuate or not but finally remained home because of this announcement and lost lives.
Details are not available at this moment but it is reported that the arguments at the court were about the earthquake prediction of scientists and the warning announcement of the government. These issues are not new but were highlighted anew as they were argued at the court.
In the review of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 11 March 2011*, it was recognized that even with advanced technologies the natural phenomena cannot be fully cleared and "uncertainty" remains; accordingly government should consider this scientific limitations in warning messages and people should also be aware of the limitations in the decision of actions.
The verdict was a shock particularly for scientists. The Statement of the Seismological Society of Japan* may well represent majority of opinions of scientists which said "researchers may no longer speak so openly if their opinions can lead criminal liability".
The issues posed by the L' Aquila case are common to the sediment-related disasters which ISN members are responsible for : Scientists are making effort to improve the accuracy of prediction, while government officials are making effort to communicate warnings more clearly in shorter sentences without causing unnecessary worry, under such scientific limitations in prediction.
This verdict is not final in Italy, to continue with an appeal from either side. While thinking these issues seriously, let us see the next one.
President, International Sabo Association
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