United Italy: the first laws

Terremoto Reggio Calabria e Messina 1980Before the unity of Italy relief was organised in different ways according to the state. When there was a disaster (earthquake of Val di Noto - 1693, earthquake in Calabria - 1783) the authorities appointed a commissioner with exceptional powers. On a legislative level, there were already anti-seismic laws in the Pontifical State, in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and in the Duchy of Mantua, where the first anti-seismic house in the West was designed by Pirro Logorio. Wandering through the ruins of Ferrara, hit by an earthquake in 1570, the architect was the first person to realise how important solidly constructed buildings were and to consider the question of living safety.

With united Italy the Statuto Albertino, adopted by the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1848, came into force. By their geological nature Piemonte and Sardinia are not seismic regions and as a consequence in all the states annexed to Piemonte all the laws regarding anti-seismic buildings were abolished. In the new “joint” laws, the hydraulic engineering “tradition” developing in the territory of the north to control the rivers remained.

Providing aid and relief to the damaged populations was not a State priority: relief came within the concept of public generosity and the interventions of soldiers, who had always represented the framework of relief, were considered charity work. During the flood in Rome in December 1870, the first to offer aid were the army troops who two months earlier had conquered the city (Breach of Porta Pia).

The post-unity legislative framework was fragmentary and not very organic, limiting itself to envisage interventions following particular contingencies and calamities or for specific subjects. All the urgent measures adopted to cope with the emergencies in the immediate had a legal basis in the ordering powers granted to the administrative authority by Law no. 2359 dated June 25, 1865. Prefects and mayors were able to use private property in the event of breaking of banks, overturning of bridges and in general in any emergencies.

In general, when an emergency occurred, the army and the security forces were mobilised and they were the first to arrive at the scene of the disaster. The management process was rigid and coded and only started when news of the disaster officially arrived on the table of the Prime Minister, who also performed the functions of Minister of State. Despatch started from the dense network of prefectures present on the territory and could arrive after a few hours, days, but even weeks after the event. The emergencies were considered national only if they hit strategic objectives for road communications and structures of public utility. Having assessed the range of the event, the Minister of State and the War Minister were mobilised, who sent the divisions nearest to the affected area. Voluntary helpers, religious authorities and associations along side the soldiers were activated spontaneously and in an uncoordinated manner.

In 1906 some particular provisions were issued on volcanic eruptions, defending inhabitants and roads from landslides, floods, high seas and hurricanes. In 1908, after the disastrous earthquake of Messina, the anti-seismic classification of the territory was introduced and the first anti-seismic laws were introduced.