The first organic laws: centralisation
The first law on relief was Royal Decree no. 1915 dated September 2,1919, which gave a first set of rules to the emergency service in the event of natural disasters, although limited to earthquakes alone. The Minister of Public Works was the authority responsible for managing and coordinating relief, on which all the civil, military and local authorities depend.
We had to wait until 1925 for a first organic law regarding civil protection: Law no. 473 dated April 17 identified the Minister of Public Works and their operative wing, the Civil Engineering Department as the fundamental bodies for relief with the aid of the health structures.
Royal Decree Law no. 2389 dated December 9 1926, converted into Law no. 833 dated March 15 1928, further defined the organisation of the relief and confirmed the responsibility of the Minister for Public Works as director and coordinator of the interventions and also of the other administrations and bodies of the State, like the Fire Brigade, the State Railways, the Red Cross, etc. The relief was not limited to “telluric disasters” alone, but was extended to those “of other kinds”.
While awaiting the arrival of the Minister of Public Works or the undersecretary of State at the scene of the disaster, all the civil authorities and soldiers depended on the Prefect, the representative of the government in the province, who coordinated the first interventions. The same power was assigned to the Mayors on the municipal territory: as soon as they became aware of the event, they had to send the fire brigade and the available personnel to the scene, immediately informing the Prefect. The relief personnel and digging in the rubble was coordinated by the civil engineering department. The Air Force, the Army, the Ministry of Communications and the Italian Red Cross were all involved to some extent.
After the war, in the wake of the climate of post war renewal, an attempt was made to achieve organic legislation regarding civil protection: In the years 1950, 1962 and 1967 some draft laws were unsuccessfully presented. But once again, calamitous events paved the way for preparation and approval of new and more suitable legislative instruments.
The Florence flood of 1966, the first emergency followed by the world media, highlighted the unsuitability of the central relief structure. Due to the absence of a monitoring network the overflowing of the Arno was not communicated in advance and the citizens were caught by surprise. In the first few days the aid and relief arrived almost exclusively from the volunteers (“the angels of the mud”) and from the troops stationed in the city. It wasn’t until six days after the flood that the government managed to provide a network of organised relief. Also during the Belice earthquake in 1968 (236 deaths) the management of the earthquake turned out to be a complete failure due to the lack of coordination between the forces in action. The choices for reconstruction were also wrong: the population was asked to move away from the town centres affected and new settlements completely different to those of the traditions and styles of local life were created.
The change came with Law no. 996 dated December 8, 1970, the first real law which outlined an overall framework of civil protection interventions: “Laws on relief and assistance to people affected by calamities – Civil protection”.
For the first time Italian law assimilated the concept of civil protection and specifies the notion of natural calamity and catastrophe. The concept of civil protection, intended as preparing and coordinating the interventions thus asserted itself and the fundamental jobs assigned to the various civil protection elements was determined for a rational organisation of the interventions and to provide the people affected with rapid and effective relief.
The management and coordination of all the activities passed from the Ministry of Public Works to the Ministry of State. A commissioner for emergencies was envisaged to direct and coordinate the relief on the site. In order to assist the people from the first emergency to the return to normality, Emergency Assistance Centres were created (Capi). An interministerial Committee of Civil Protection was established to improve coordination of the activity of the various ministries.
For the first time the activity of the volunteers of civil protection was acknowledged: the Ministry of State, through the Fire brigade, taught, trained and equipped the citizens who volunteered their help.
Law 96/70 highlighted the moment of the emergency: indeed it only regulated the relief to provide immediately after the event. The regulation of executing the law was approved only after 11 years, in the meantime disastrous earthquakes hit Friuli in 1976 and Campania in 1980.
During these two big earthquakes, which caused respectively 976 and 2570 victims, the management of the emergency and the reconstruction was very different, although the first few days were characterised in both cases by the slow relief operations and the lack of coordination.
In Friuli Venezia Giulia the regional government and the mayor of the towns affected were immediately involved. They worked in close collaboration with the extraordinary Commissioner (Giuseppe Zamberletti) from the beginning of the emergency. For the first time “operative centres” were established with the objective of creating a directive organisation in the affected areas, made up of representatives of public and private administrations, under the presidency of the mayor with the power to decide the relief operations, knowing the characteristics of the territory and its resources. Decision making power was given to the Mayors in the reconstruction phases too, so that they could have direct control over the territory and at the same time show that the institutions were close to the citizens. The population actively participated in the reconstruction of the social and urban fabric according to the “Friuli model”, “how it was, where it was”, completed in just over 15 years.
The management of the emergency after the Irpinia earthquake was a failure, both in the first hours after the seism and in the subsequent phase of reconstruction. The first relief was characterised by a total lack of coordination: volunteers, regional structures and local authorities were spontaneously mobilised without instructions and precise operative objectives from the Ministry of State. After the chaos of the first three days, the government intervened and nominated Giuseppe Zamberletti as extraordinary commissioner. He managed to reorganise the relief operations and communicate with the mayors.
Against these catastrophes the relief system showed all its limitations: civil and cultural debate was started with the aim of overcoming the old operative system. The idea that disasters should be coped with after having “imagined, described and experienced” them first and that the intervention structures had to be designed in consideration of the scenarios already elaborated and prevention measures already enacted began to take shape. Civil Protection began to be talked about and not only as relief, but also as forecasting and preventing.
The time was now ripe for a radical change.