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The results of work by the International Seismologist Commission – 2 October 2009

An abstract(59 Kb) scurrent scientific knowledge, with proposed guidelines for prediction and prevention of seismic risk, defined “a milestone in prediction activity" by Prof.. Mauro Dolce, Director of the Civil Protection Department’s Office for Assessment, Prevention and Mitigation of Seismic Risk. This is the result of the final meeting of the International Seismologist Commission, set up by the Head of the Civil Protection Department, Guido Bertolaso, after the earthquake on 6 April and presented this morning in the press Room of the Customs Guards Corps Barracks in Coppito.

The results were explained by Prof. Tom Jordan, President of the work group and Director of the Southern California Earthquake Center. Prof. Jordan first of all clarified how distinction must be made between deterministic predictions and probabilistic predictions and reiterated how current scientific knowledge does not permit prediction of when, where and with what magnitude an earthquake may occur.

The Commission in fact drew up an analysis of so-called earthquake precursor factors, such as, for example, changes in electromagnetic fields or the presence of radon gas and came to the conclusion that these factors do not today allow short-term predictions to be made. The International Commission does however believe that short- and long-term probabilistic prediction, even for civil protection purposes, is valid as it enables differentiation of the hazard levels of the different areas, even considering variability in time.

Recommendations by the Commission include the fact that the Civil Protection Department must carry out a coordinating role between Italian agencies, to improve the flow of data and information that derives from the various monitoring networks, used to estimate the probability that earthquakes will arrive.

Another recommendation is that a group of experts be set up to support decision-making authorities, which reports directly to the Head of the Civil Protection Department, with the remit of assessing available prediction models or individual predictions, in order to provide indications for definition and any civil protection actions to be taken.

Another important aspect is information to the people about seismicity in Italy, which the Civil Protection can provide based on probabilistic predictions, not only to enable citizens to prepare for a possible earthquake but also to have an official source that gives scientifically validated indications regarding earthquake prediction.

The Commission came to these conclusions after four meetings held in L’Aquila, Potsdam in Germany, Rome and again in L’Aquila from 30 September to 2 October.

The Commission is made up of nine scientists, specialists in seismology and geophysics, holding top roles in the world’s most important universities and research centres: Prof. Tom Jordan, President of the work group, Director of the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC), and Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Yun Tai Chen, Professor of Geophysics and Honorary Director of the Institute of Geophysics of the China Earthquake Administration, Paolo Gasparini, Professor of Geophysics at Federico II University in Naples, Raoul Madariaga, Professor of Seismology at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, Ian Main, Professor of Seismology and Physics of Rocks at Edinburgh University, Warner Marzocchi, Head of Research at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, Gerassimos Papadopoulos, Head of Research at the National Observatory in Athens, Guennadi A. Sobolev, Director of the Department of Natural Catastrophes and Seismicity of the Earth of the Russian Academy of Science in Moscow, Jochen Zschau, Professor of Geophysics at Potsdam University.