6. Can the consequences of an earthquake be influenced by human behaviour?

Consequences of earthquakes can be either reduced or increased based on individual behaviour and community development decisions (or, in some cases, lack of decision-making).

  • Behaviour: knowing well the emergency instructions and emergency plans is essential for people living in active seismic areas as in the case of alarm or crisis, everyone needs to participate in the right way to the efforts made by civil protection teams and authorities;
  • Development policies: adequate policies must be applied in seismic areas and thus local communities need to know the risk levels in the different areas and authorities have to adopt adequate seismic engineering rules for safe building, industry resilience and continuation of social activities.
Map of seismic hazard in Italy. Different colours indicate the excess in Peak horizontal Ground Acceleration (PGA) compared to normal Gravity Acceleration (g: 9,80 m/s2). PGA of 0,1g can damage built structures. Source: www.ingv.it

If behaviour and development policies do not adequately consider seismic risks, earthquake consequences can be significant and dramatic for individuals and the society as a whole.

The choice of establishing economic, social and politically strategic elements and functions in a known seismic area has evident consequences; in the case of earthquakes, important elements and functions can be damaged or stopped, with negative consequence for the development efforts of a community.

However, adequate policy choices and structural engineering advancements allow society to live with a sufficient safety level in seismic areas: new structures and infrastructure can be built with accurate seismic safety criteria while older ones can be upgraded so that they resist in the case of an earthquake. The same applies for social and economic activities: prevention and preparedness activities can strengthen the community resilience and are the main tools for ensuring safety in seismic areas.

Research and development can also contribute to innovation in the field of earthquake safety: seismic safety is based on the ability to innovate in among other, science, engineering, land planning, institutional organization, emergency management.

As earthquakes are not yet predictable, the only way to reduce risk in a seismic area is to lessen the vulnerability and the exposed value of human settlements through:

  • structural measures: seismic engineering building and upgrading;
  • non-structural measures: emergency planning, information, education, policy making, etc.
Seismic classification of Italian municipalities. Red: High hazard Orange: Medium hazard Yellow: Low hazard. Credit: Dipartimento Protezione Civile; Istituto Nazionale Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Italy