The community of volcanologists comes face to face with the civil protection: a COV10 dialogue

by Gianluca Garro

“Cities on volcanoes” number 10, has been held in Naples, the Italian city of volcanoes.
A city dominated by volcanoes, as they have inevitably affected its history. At the headquarters of the Mostra d'oltremare, hundreds of scientists and decision-makers committed to prevent and respond to volcano-related emergencies gathered in plenary conferences, sessions and workshops. At the center of the debate, there was the development of a collaboration between the two actors, that, by now, is deemed unanimously necessary to bring forward actions aimed at mitigating the risk of volcanic eruptions, that to different extents might affect countries and communities.

The online Magazine of the Civil Protection Department put face to face two protagonists of COV10, to give an idea of which subjects and issues have been covered during the week of works.

The volcanic scientific community is represented by Nico Fournier, Head of Volcanology Department at GNS Science (, research center on natural risks in New Zealand, a beautiful country exposed to seismic and volcanic risks, to name the most important ones.

What is the importance of events such as COV10?

Fournier: this kind of conferences are a great opportunity to bring people together. I think something that is very special in this part of the conference is that it doesn't bring together only scientists, but it brings people who are actually working around real scientists from observatories to civil protection, or stakeholders in general. I think it's one opportunity to have a safer dialogue about what we are actually expecting one from the others. The things I'm the most expecting from this particular conference is a dialogue between the different groups of people and maybe identify key things we could be doing that will actually make the biggest difference in the short term.

D’Angelo: COV10 represents an important occasion for the scientific community of volcanologists and civil protection actors, gathered here to discuss and bring forward operational strategies to allow the safeguard of people, should events of this type occur.

What are the difficulties and what are the advantages in the dialogue between the scientific community and civil protection when planning for volcanic events?

D’Angelo: First of all there is a theme of language: it is necessary to understand well the terms to be used, that is to create a shared code to make two apparently too different worlds dialogue and work in synergy. The great challenge is to understand each other better. It is necessary to define what information a decision-maker needs to know from the scientific community when the situation evolves in a certain way.

Fournier: I think that one of the problems, sometimes, in the dialogue between scientists and authorities, is that there is a lack of understanding of where the problems really are. Instead of the scientists always asking the authorities “what do you want or what do you need?”, sometimes the authorities may not know what they want or they need, because they may not have a great understanding of some of the wider issues, as they are not experts. So, one of the things we could do, instead of asking people what do you want or what do you need, is asking "what is your problem?". I think that, probably, something that is missing right now in the conversation, is a very simple and fair conversation about "what is your biggest problem?" and how can we actually help you coming up with an answer to that problem. We might have part of the answers and we might be proposing things such as “how we could offer to you or you might know already what you need but in any case we just stop at what you actually just want to achieve: "what is your problem?".

Naples hosts the COV10 not by chance. It is the city of the two volcanoes that have influenced its millennial history. The challenge of planning and communicating civil protection plans is crucial and relevant. What can be done to make citizens increasingly aware of the risks and solidity of the plans?

D’Angelo: we are working on updating with tangible results and we know what to say to the population at the time of the alarm. It is important for everyone to know that we have defined some meeting areas in which everyone will have to meet in order to be assisted by the Campania Region. We have clear and basic elements to transmit to the population to get acquainted with the Vesuvio and Campi Flegrei plans.

Fournier: I probably don't know the whole context here in Naples enough to be able to comment about how the things are done here. But the biggest challenge that certainly happens in Naples and certainly happens in all over the places is a volcanology space that is full of uncertainty and when we put out some information in terms of what could happen it is a scenario, but it doesn't mean that we are able to actually predict what could happen, and I think probably one of the biggest miscommunication is the expectation from the people that we can we say exactly when an eruption is going to occur, how big is going to be and when will it stop. The reality is that we are in most cases not able to do that. So, it's about providing the information about the uncertainty and us, as scientists, to still be comfortable to talk about what is happening even if we don't have the full answer.

Lastly, to D'Angelo, what are the next steps of the plan updating in a nutshell?

The updating of the plans of Vesuvius and Flegrei leaders goes on in parallel. We have defined the essential elements, the meeting areas, the intervention model and the general strategy of the system. We need to focus on new commitments such as the exercise activity that will take place next year in the Campi Flegrei.

(September 6, 2018)