Why is Italy selected for the International Seismic Safety Organization (ISSO) headquarters?

Italy is an ancient and advanced country with a well recorded history of destructive earthquakes and volcanoes as it is situated in a tectonically active region. The word, volcano itself is adapted from “Vulcano”, the name of a volcanic island near Sicily, and Italian historic volcanoes are well known. Earthquake and volcanic phenomena have been investigated here throughout history with significant contributions. For example, the macroseismic intensity scale that Giuseppe Mercalli presented to the scientific community in his ten-degrees variant in 1902 was extended to a twelve-degrees scale in the same year by the Italian physicist Adolfo Cancani. The ingenious twelve-degrees intensity scale based on observed earthquake effects on structures and common objects originated here in Italy and yet, such observations are extremely difficult to be readily quantified by advanced strong-motion records and analysis. The work on developing building codes began in Italy in 1908, following the Messina disaster; in Japan following the 1923 Tokyo disaster; and in California after the Santa Barbara earthquake of 1925.

In modern times, the hazards and associated risks have particularly become great concerns for civil protection because of repeated destruction of structures and communities by such events from time to time, causing a large number of victims like the 2009 Abruzzo earthquake. As Italy is a natural laboratory for earthquake engineering as well as for earthquake and volcano studies, with the country’s determination to provide effective civil protection from such events, it is an ideal setting for the newly formed International Seismic Safety Organization (ISSO) headquarters. Italy is easy to reach from other countries, particularly from Europe and the Middle East, for meetings and consultations.

The last great destruction caused by only a moderate earthquake magnitude in L’Aquila and the surrounding communities in the Abruzzo region occurred in April 2009, prompting a long soul-searching investigation by responsible officials. They wanted to find out what went wrong with words from members of the Great Risk Commission (GRC) of Italy in their meeting a few days prior to that earthquake. The investigation resulted in the indictment, trial and conviction of the members at the conclusion of a year-long court hearing that concluded in October 2012. Regrettably, negative misinformation — that the GRC members have been in trouble with the law because they could not “predict the earthquake” — was actively circulated by leading scientific organizations and powerful media, before and after the court proceedings. ISSO, our young association stands to provide reliable information and takes its move from a years-long open discussion group, involving a number of scientists and experts worldwide, who are willing to offer a reliable approach to improve seismic safety worldwide. We recognized that those actively promoting misinformation also refused to consider viewpoints held by ISSO founding members for years and therefore, it would not be fruitful to start a movement there. At the same time, ISSO has notable Italian members who are proven leaders and known researchers, having positive influence in this field internationally.

The year 2012 is remarkable and truly historic in this field because of the courageous efforts in Italy to clarify and remedy what went wrong with certain practices and conduct of experts: this story will be a milestone! Things will never be the same and that for the better, in spite of negative attacks using misinformation as stated. In years to come, things can and will change as the facts will eventually prevail.

ISSO strongly believes that what has been done in Italy should be appreciated deeply and accepts it as a golden opportunity to benchmark 2012 as the start for working constructively for public protection according to ISSO’s Position Statement that confidently endorses the use of a physically sound and proven deterministic approach. ISSO believes that scientists will be even more motivated to do good research and certainly not be afraid to produce good science!

ISSO wants to dedicate its efforts to the memory of those who died and suffered in the 2009 Abruzzo earthquake that they did not die or suffer in vain. Also, to the Italian justice system on its determination to resolve a difficult international landmark case, helping the professionals to do a more responsible and accountable job for civil protection worldwide in the future. What place is more suitable to establish such movement than in Italy, with all its rich background? ISSO expects great results from Italy that will be a good example for others.

The above points and the continuing role to be played by lessons learned from the 2009 Abruzzo earthquake clarify why the Abruzzo region was selected for ISSO headquarters. More importantly, unlike other scientific organizations, ISSO has no sponsor or funding at this time as it was hastily formed in urgency to challenge the spread of misinformation stated above, and so it was natural to accept the very kind offer of Lawyer Wania Della Vigna to establish its headquarters in her offices in Arsita, at no costs to ISSO. The lawyer played a key role in court proceedings representing relatives and victims of collapsed buildings (partly due to bad construction) in the 2009 earthquake.

That is why ISSO has its headquarters in Italy – particularly, in the Abruzzo region at the Arsita offices of Lawyer Wania Della Vigna.

Arsita, January 2013