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News Picks : Italian official who managed earthquake risk study to stand trial

By: Physics Today
30 October 2015

Science: On Thursday, an Italian court ruled that Guido Bertolaso, who was the head of Italy's civil protection department in 2009, will have to stand trial for manslaughter for his part in the analysis and messaging prior to the earthquake that struck L'Aquila in April of that year, killing 309 people. Because of the number of small- and medium-sized quakes that had already occurred in the area around L'Aquila, Bertolaso had convened a meeting on 31 March 2009 of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks to analyze the risk of a major earthquake. The commission's analysis of the situation allegedly played down the danger and led some people to abandon precaution and remain indoors. The seven members of that panel—three seismologists, two seismic engineers, a volcanologist, and Bertolaso's deputy—were subsequently put on trial and convicted to six-year prison terms; all but one had the sentence overturned late in 2014. The case concerning Bertolaso centers on a phone call in which he described the meeting of the panel as a "media operation" to calm the public in the face of alarmist predictions from a local researcher. The call came to light in January 2012, and the case has been in limbo as the original prosecutor twice asked for the charges to be dropped. On both occasions, lawyers for the earthquake victims contested the request. The case will begin 20 November, the day after an appeal against the overturned convictions for the seven scientists reaches Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation.

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