One Day in Europe: Italy

Adriana Cavaglià about the Central Italy earthquakes

One Day in Europe is a feature of EFG’s monthly newsletter GeoNews. Each month we travel to one of EFG’s national membership associations and discover their main activities and challenges. In May 2018 we have visited Italy and talked to representives of our Italian National Assocation CNG.

The Italian National Council of Geologists (CNG) is the national organization in Italy which has the legislated authority to register professional geoscientists and regulate geosciences practice in Italy. It is the largest national association within EFG representing more than 11000 individual members from the academic and professional sectors.

Representatives of CNG have informed us about challenges relating to natural hazards and equal opportunities for man and women. Here below you can read a contribution by Adriana Cavaglià who speaks about the role of professional geologists in managing the earthquakes that have occured in Central Italy between 2016 and 2018.

Adriana Cavaglià

Adriana Cavaglià is a geologist of the Consiglio Nazionale dei Geologi (Italian National Association) with responsibility for Civil Protection. She worked with the National Civil Protection during the Central Italy earthquakes on 24 August 2016.


The first earthquake, measuring 6.2 on the moment magnitude scale, hit Central Italy on 24 August 2016 at 03:36 a.m. Its epicentre was close to Accumoli, with its hypocentre at a depth of 4 ± 1 km, approximately 75 km southeast of Perugia and 45 km north of L’Aquila, in an area near the borders of the Umbria, Lazio, Abruzzo and Marche regions. A magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck Italy 3 kilometres west of Visso on 26 October 2016 at 9:18 p.m. local time. The earthquake, initially considered an aftershock of the magnitude 6.2 earthquake in August, struck about 30 kilometres to the northwest of the August earthquake. On 30 October 2016 at 07:40 a.m., an earthquake larger than the 24 August shock, struck Norcia.
A magnitude 5.3 earthquake struck 25 km northwest of L’Aquila on 18 January 2017 at 10:25 local time at a depth of 9 km. A stronger, 5.7 tremor hit the same epicentral area at 11:14 local time. A third earthquake of preliminary magnitude of 5.6 struck 11 minutes later. At 14:33 local time, the fourth tremor of a magnitude 5.2 was registered. A magnitude 4.6 earthquate struck Italy 2 kilometres of Muccia near to Macerata on 10 April 2018 at 05.11 a.m local time.

As of 15 November 2016, 299 people had been killed. The seismic sequence that hit Central Italy from the 24th of August 2016 to the 18th of January 2017, caused damage for 23.5 billion and 530 million euro. The figure includes both the real structural damage and the cost to face the emergency. 12.9 billion of this amount refer to damage relating to private buildings and € 1.1 billion to public buildings.

How could Italian geologists support the National Civil Protection’s activities during the earthquakes in Central Italy?

When the earthquakes occured in Central Italy in August 2016, Italian geologists, members of the Consiglio Nazionale dei Geologi (CNG is EFG’s Italian National Association) worked with the National Civil Protection to give their technical support. During Central Italy Earthquakes, in 2016 and 2017, Italian geologists collaborated, for the first time, in civil protection activities aimed at tackling and overcoming a seismic emergency. The National Association CNG, with the partnership of the territorial orders, gave technical support to the National Civil Protection through teams of geologists who came from all across Italy.

Our geologists’ activities (that continued until September 2017) consisted of training and assistance to the Municipal Operations. We worked with a software for the computerized and georeferenced management of the inspection instances and AeDES papers (AeDES papers are used for the detection of the accessibility and damage of buildings in seismic emergency). Our geologists have been trained by the seismic sector technicians of the Region and of the Arpa Piemonte. Moreover, geological-technical surveys were started to define geological problems (as landslides and subsidence) relating to the buildings and infrastructures through specific survey cards used during the emergency in Central Italy.

Can you tell us what geologists’ activities during an earthquake look like?

After a natural disaster such as an earthquake, geologists offer their support to the emergency management authorities. Geologists set out the earthquake-induced effects and the residual risk interfering with buildings and infrastructures. As we know, the low presence of geologists in public offices requires an external technical support. Only through specific protocol agreement between professional categories and organisations, it is possible to provide for this lack crossing the post-emergency phase more quickly. In this way, the activities carried out by geologists, in emergency situations, contribute to the return, as soon as possible, to normal living conditions, with consequent benefits for administrations as well as for citizens.

From a human point of view, what was the most important moment you remember during the earthquake on 24 August 2016?

During the Central Italy earthquakes, our colleagues gave their support and they showed satisfaction both from a professional and human point of view. The experience has stimulated a comparison with other professional categories and has given us the possibility to offer concrete help in an emergency situation. After this natural disaster, we wanted to give our aid to the affected populations. But, until now, no technical support has been provided to pursue during an earthquake with the exception of some regional hydrogeological emergencies. During the Central Italy earthquakes, the greatest satisfaction was to be able to offer concrete help, to make our professional skills available to the people affected in order to overcome the emergency situation.   

Italy is a country that is very fragile to seismic hazards. How can geologists’ actions make the country safer?

Italy is a country with a high seismic hazard, because of its “uncomfortable” position at the edge of the African and Euro-Asian tectonic plates. It’s, obviously, impossible to eliminate this danger because it’s a geodynamic mechanism. But it’s possible to reduce the risk through the dissemination of geological culture. We can inform our citizens about georisks that unstoppably transform our territory and we can teach them the correct behavior to adopt in case of earthquakes.

In Italy only 44% of the geological map are completed although Italian geologists have repeated many times that Italy is a fragile country from the geological risk point of view. What does the CNG ask from the political decision-makers?

We would like to have funds to complete the Italian geological map. Unfortunately, the project “Urgent measures to complete the geological mapping of Italy and microzonation seismic” did not become law. The CARG (Geological CARtography) project was an opportunity to get to know Italy, an high risk country for geological hazards. Only by knowing the area in which we live, we can achieve the goal of true prevention. Moreover, it’s important to adopt correct behaviour during an earthquake.

Prevention has to be the watchword to make the territory safe. How can we prevent an earthquake?

At the moment, we still can’t predict earthquakes. However, it’s possible to act before the next earthquake through interventions to improve and adapt seismic structures. We can also give a lot of information to the people in order to make them aware of the risks of their area.  

Last October, the CNG talked about safety and prevention to the children in more than 270 Italian schools. Do you think geology should be taught in schools?

Geology is a science that studies the Earth and the dynamic processes that determine its evolution. Human beings interacts with the earth’s crust, they build houses, schools, offices and infrastructures. It’s necessary to know which processes could determine the transformation of a specific area, even more the one in which one lives. For this reason, last October we went to Italian schools to give our knowledge to kids. We dedicated a whole day, to give them a lot of information on the prevention. It was the first step to teach Geological Sciences to young people. We want to understand them how earthquakes, landslides, floods, volcanic eruptions, often called “disasters”, are natural phenomena that can become tragedies only when man doesn’t give the right importance to the geological component during planning activities. The teaching of Geological Sciences in Italian schools would be a very strong sense of responsibility from the Institutions towards future generations.

During an earthquake the highest number of victims is caused by wrong practices. Do you think geological culture could be important to train children for observing correct behaviour in case of an earthquake?

Knowledge of the natural hazards of their own territory should be the basis of risk awareness by each citizen. During an earthquake people ask us: “Are we safe after this event in our houses? Or will there be another one? And will it be stronger than it has already been?” This means an absolute lack of geological culture in citizens who, after the shock, forget to live in a country with high seismic danger or other risks. Instead, it’s in “peacetime” that we have to work to disseminate and acquire the cultural prevention, through the dissemination of the civil protection culture, unfortunately not yet widespread in the population. But knowing the geological hazards of the area in which you live and what you have to do during a natural disaster, we could save many lives. If we could disseminate this geological culture in schools, our children would grow with these teachings and prevention would become a proper way of life.

More information about EFG’s National Associations