L’Aquila case study

L’Aquila: tools and methods for information flow in formal and informal cultural networks

The earthquake that almost destroyed the city of L’Aquila in 2009 provides especially useful information on the importance of cultural networks, due to some particularities of the management of this disaster. This event had a strong impact on the existing formal and informal urban networks, and particularly between local community and authorities.

Although some days before the episode the local communities were scared due to the long sequence of low-intense earthquakes, and that local knowledge was suggesting to find a shelter, official information channels disseminated reassuring information. Before that event, the authorities disseminated warnings based only on scientific and technical knowledge, neglecting the reliability of local community perception. Because of the good reputation of the Civil Protection Agency, at both local and national level, local communities had confidence in this information. Several people died in their home because they were not prepared for the disaster. This had a strong negative impact on the trust level of the local community towards the emergency managers, with consequences on the acceptability of emergency management and recovery measures.
After the earthquake, the local community was forced to abandon the city centre that has been closed due to the extended risk of collapses. New towns were developed in safer places, disaggregating the original socio-cultural networks. New social and cultural networks emerged after the disasters, with often different cultural aspects.

Introduction to L’Aquila and information networks in DRR to increase resilience

L’Aquila is a medium-size city, located in the Central Italy with a population of 70.221 inhabitants as of 2015, although many thousands more of tourists and foreign students visit the city yearly. It is the capital city of the Province of L’Aquila and the mountainous Abruzzo region. L’Aquila is surrounded by Apennine Mountains and very close to one of the most important natural protected areas in Italy: the National Park of ‘Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga’.

Figure 72. Location of the city of L’Aquila within Italy (Copyright of background map: Google, 2015)

Earthquakes have been present throughout the history of L’Aquila, a medieval city founded in 13th century. This fact derives of the situation of the city, partially upon an ancient lake-bed that amplifies seismic activity. There are documented episodes of serious earthquakes in 1315, 1349, 1452, 1461, 1501, 1646, 1703, 1706 and 1958; with thousands of casualties caused by these. On April 6, 2009, an earthquake of 5.9o on the Richter scale hit central Italy having its epicentre near L’Aquila. Official reports state that 308 people died directly because of the earthquake, and number of injured was approximately 1,500. The number of seriously damaged buildings was over 3,000, several of them collapsing. Most of the inhabitants of L’Aquila abandoned the city, with estimations that “around 40,000 people who were made homeless by the earthquake found accommodation in tented camps and a further 10,000 were housed in hotels on the coast” (The Guardian, 1 May 2009).
Before the earthquake, the city was well known for its historical heritage, being a walled city with a maze of narrow streets, lined by Baroque and Renaissance buildings.

The case study of L’Aquila explores how the role of culture, and in particular of cultural networks, can improve disaster risk reduction by focusing in this case on earthquakes. EDUCEN implementation in L’Aquila case aims to make authorities and emergency operators aware of the role played by local knowledge in DRR, and capable to integrate this knowledge in the DRR decision making processes.

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