Tuesday, 23 October 2012

L'Aquila Sentence - Trial or Witch-Hunt?

March 2009: Mr Giampaolo Gioacchino Giuliani is an amateur seismologist with no formal qualifications in that field. He has specialised in monitoring radon emissions in the hope of finding precursors to damaging earthquakes. Radon is a stable element whose flux is easily detected using the sort of apparatus that is sold to people who are concerned about the health effects of its accumulation in their homes. Slip faulting in areas of crustal stress can increase the radon content of air and groundwater. Hence, it is one potential indicator of enhanced seismic activity and impending earthquakes (Ghosh et al. 2011). Mr Giuliani put his apparatus in the cellar of a school in L'Aquila. When he detected large increases in the radon content of the air, he informed the local, regional and national civil protection authorities, but not the general public.

Nevertheless, word got out. Local people became agitated, as an irregular sequence of small earthquakes had been occurring since October 2008. Faced with public anxiety, the national and local authorities mounted a vigorous campaign against Mr Giuliani, which involved preparations to sue him for punitive damages for 'disturbing the public peace'.

In response to public anxieties, and to the sequence of small earthquakes, the Italian government convened a meeting of the Commissione Grandi Rischi (national Major Risks Commission) in L'Aquila on 31 March 2009. The two-page minutes of the meeting were later published by the weekly magazine L'Espresso (L'Espresso 2009). Present at the meeting were regional functionaries and six professors of geosciences or engineering, all of whom had important managerial appointments in the national civil protection organisation. One was the Director of the national Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology; two were officials of the national Department of Civil Protection.

The consensus of the discussion, as reported in the minutes, is summed up in the following statement:
"Il Prof. Barberi conclude che non c'รจ nessun motivo per cui si possa dire che una sequenza di scosse di masso magnitudo possa essere considerata precursore di un forte evento." ("Professor Barberi concludes that there is no reason for saying that a sequence of low magnitude shocks could be considered the precursor of a strong event.")
The tone of the discussion, as evinced by the minutes, is more than definite: it is categorical.

It should be borne in mind that the 1703 earthquake in L'Aquila was part of a swarm of shocks: it killed an estimated 6,000 people (Cello et al. 1997). Moreover, there have been other historical examples of earthquake sequences in the central Apennines that have included a main shock.

In reality, such ebullient confidence was probably intended to disguise the fact that the level of local preparedness was far too low to be able to cope adequately with major public disruption.

At 00:30 hrs on Monday 6th April 2009 an earthquake shock occurred that was alarmingly large. It did little damage but it sent many people rushing outside their houses. In Paganica (population 5,024), one of the satellite towns of L'Aquila municipality, the local civil protection organisation sent loudspeaker vans to tour the streets and invite people to calm down and return home. No doubt they were motivated by the policy that had been so stridently set in the meeting of the Major Risks Commission one week earlier. At Paganica, five people were killed in the collapse of their homes, and tens of people were injured.

In Italy, the recession has had the effect of reducing the tolerance that ordinary citizens have of corruption and inefficiency. It has also increased the sense of antipathy that such people have of the political class, which is often known as 'the caste'. A significant number of members of the 'caste' are academics. Not all of them are above reproach. Some of the public opprobrium has been directed to specific cases of corruption, malfeasance or inefficiency, but a significant proportion is unfocussed and indiscriminate.

One development that Italy shares with many other countries is the tendency to turn the locality of a disaster into a crime scene. In L'Aquila, many collapsed buildings were circled with legal tape and posted with official notices indicating that judicial enquiries were underway. The trial of six functionaries of the Civil Protection organisation is a by-product of that process.

In trying to understand the trial and sentence, it is important to bear in mind the context of the recovery from the earthquake of 6 April 2009. L'Aquila is an economic backwater, a mountain city with relatively little dynamism (that, many would say, is its charm). After the earthquake, it underwent a sort of 'forced modernisation' (Alexander 2012). I have argued elsewhere (Alexander 2011) that the process cannot fully be understood using common sense logic, but that it needs instead the application of political logic, which may be a rather different thing. Huge expenditures were made on the basis of political considerations, and the result was a radical--and highly contentious--redefinition of the concept of welfare (see citations for details).

The upshot of this situation was an atmosphere that was very highly charged in political terms--even by Italian standards. Rarely, if ever, has there been an Italian disaster in which the issues were black and white. Even more than usual, L'Aquila bristled with overtones and subtle shades of meaning. It made the scandal of the tardy government response to the 1980 Irpinia-Basilicata earthquake look like a paragon of simplicity.

The move to prosecute the representatives of national Civil Protection was unprecedented in modern European history. This is one among several reasons why few developments have been so roundly misunderstood in international debate. The legal action was seen as an unfair attack on science--lawyers demanding that seismologists predict earthquakes when that is physically impossible. In reality, it was nothing of the sort. The trial was about responsibility for statements that have potentially fatal consequences in terms of public safety.

What we should reflect on is the role of the precautionary principle in legal responsibilities. The six defendants were condemned because they failed to invoke it. It can be argued that, if they had done so, lives might have been saved. That is a hypothetical consideration, but how hypothetical is a matter of debate or conjecture, not measurement.

It is also important to remember that the context of decision making changed radically and abruptly between the pre- and post-earthquake phases. Before the event, the public and official debate was dominated by the question of how to suppress the alarm; afterwards, the issues were more diverse. They included housing the homeless survivors, establishing culpability and limiting public exposure to further risk.

In the end, as much experience in the United States should testify (Hershey 1986), legal action is not a good and efficient means of learning lessons about disaster risk reduction. A less adversarial, but equally penetrating, consensual methodology would be welcome. Meanwhile, there will be moratoria on prediction, warning and preventative action to the risk of imminent disaster, impelled by fear of legal action. That is not a promising milieu in which to create resilience. The trial of the 'Aquila Six' was undeniably full of political overtones--perhaps that is true of all such actions in Italy--but it was also a judicial necessity. Despite that, there have been accusations that the sentence is largely based on what people can remember of their motivations for action on that April night more than three years ago (Nosengo 2012)--perhaps a rather thin motive for condemning seven people to prison. Nevertheless, one hopes that this landmark trial will represent a positive turning point in the assumption of responsibility for civil protection actions.


Alexander, D.E. 2011. Civil protection amid disasters and scandals. In E. Gualmini and E. Pasotti (eds) Italian Politics: Much Ado About Nothing? Berghahn, New York and Oxford: 180-197; La protezione civile tra scandali e disastri naturali. Politica in Italia 2011: i fatti dell'anno e le interpretazioni. Istituto Cattaneo, Il Mulino, Bologna: 187-206.

Alexander, D.E. 2012. An evaluation of the medium-term recovery process after the 6 April 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, central Italy. Environmental Hazards: Human and Policy Dimensions 11: 1-13.

Cello, G., S. Mazzoli and E. Tondi 1998. The crustal fault structure responsible for the 1703 earthquake sequence of central Italy. Journal of Geodynamics 26(2-4): 443-460.

Ghosh, D., A. Deb, S.R. Sahoo, S. Haldar and R. Sengupta 2011. Radon as seismic precursor: new data with well water of Jalpaiguri, India. Natural Hazards 58(3): 877-889.

Hershey, N. 1986. Legal perspectives in responding to disasters. Journal of the World Association of Emergency and Disaster Medicine 2(1-4): 96-102.

L’Espresso, 2009. Verbale riunione della Commissione Grandi Rischi, L’Aquila, 31 marzo 2009. L’Espresso magazine, Rome, 17 April 2009.

Nosengo, N. 2012. L'Aquila, la baracconata degli esperti e la sproporzione dei giudici. www.scienzainrete.it (accessed 26 October 2012).

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Disaster Goes to School in Italy

In Italy there are 51,674 schools. Sixty per cent of them were constructed before 1974, when anti-seismic building codes were first applied to such buildings. Also, 44 per cent of them have no certificate of structural safety for non-seismic (i.e. static) conditions. One in ten schools (10.3%) is built to antiseismic standards. More than one third of children at school (38%) do not know whether they live in a seismic zone or not. Three fifths (59%) do not know whether their school has an emergency plan (it most probably does not). Two thirds of students (64%) would have no idea whatsoever about what to do in an emergency at school. In the tiny minority of cases in which schools have an emergency plan, it usually only refers to evacuation, and has probably never been tested or made known to participants.

A recent survey of high schools in the circum-Vesuvian area indicated that volcanology and volcanic risk (and also seismic risk) are not included in any way in the curriculum.

After a school collapsed at San Giovanni di Puglia (CB) in 2002, an emergency survey revealed that 6,000 Italian schools in highly seismic zones were extremely vulnerable to collapse in earthquakes. Funds were made available for limited emergency work to improve the structural stability of one third of them.

In recent years, children have died in structural collapses in Italian schools, on occasion under static conditions and not during earthquakes (for example, in the lethal, spontaneous collapse of a classroom at the Rivoli Lyceum, near Turin, in November 2008). Clearly, the potential exists for a major disaster. I have visited schools in highly seismic zones (e.g. the Naples metropolitan area and the Tuscan Lunigiana mountains) which are obvious death traps. I have also worked with school teachers on problems of emergency management, most recently in Umbria. The attitude I have most consistently encountered has been one of complacency and indifference. The tiny minority of school teachers who care about the problem see it as unsolveable because there is no support for any initiatives, either from school authorities or among  parents.

Recent earthquakes in Emilia have put the spotlight on the seismic safety of schools. Once again, disaster at school has been avoided by a lucky combination of circumstances, not by good planning and serious investment. One is sceptical about whether the nation's attention span is long enough to transform the current debate into a clear plan action--and actually follow it.

In reality, good emergency planning for schools is a sophisticated process that requires skill, persistence and widespread participation.* I wish it were considered worth doing. Initiatives have been launched, for example in Como, both to make Italian schools safer by planning and exercising, and also to use school teaching as a means of raising the consciousness of families about major hazards. It is a great pity that they are so sporadic.

Disaster is always followed by a chorus of lamentation and a welter of accusations. This process of being wise after the event, and naive before it, is a sign of immaturity in the disaster risk reduction system. It is time for change.

*See: http://www.slideshare.net/dealexander/emergenza-e-resilienza-a-scuola

See also:

Carlino, S., R. Somma and G.C. Mayberry 2008. Volcanic risk perception of young people in the urban areas of Vesuvius: comparisons with other volcanic areas and implications for emergency management. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172(3-4): 229-243.

Legambiente 2011. Ecosistema scuola. Rapporto sull'edilizia scolastica, delle strutture e dei servizi. Roma.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

On the boycott of Elsevier publications by academics and scientists

At the time of writing, more than 10,000 academics and scientists, mainly in mathematics and the physical sciences, have signed up to a boycott of publications produced and marketed by Elsevier, one of the largest international academic publishing houses, which is headquartered in Amsterdam.  This action has been widely reported in Nature, Science and the quality newspapers. Its justification is Elsevier's allegedly high prices and restrictions on access to its products. The argument runs that public funds paid for science and so the public should have open access to its fruits. That is sometimes, but not always, a plausible argument, but it tends to assume—wrongly—that publication is cost-free.

So far, the boycott has had little or no impact on the earth and environmental sciences operations of Elsevier and no discernable effect on disciplines connected with disaster management. However, it raises some interesting and quite complex questions about academics and how they publish their work.

Let me start by clarifying my position. I have edited more than 3,000 articles and was a Springer editor for 18 years (I knew Konrad Springer in person) and a Blackwell one for nine, as well as a published book author for 22 years. I am now the editor of a new Elsevier serial title, the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, which will shortly start publication. Thus I have a fair experience of commercial publishers. I understand that there are diverse business models. As set out below, I do not fully agree with some of them—but not to the point of wanting to join a boycott.

Even though we all engage repeatedly in publication, many academics are remarkably ignorant about all sorts of aspects of it: the mechanics, graphics, logistics, economics—and the readership (or market, if you prefer). We all support open access, because, for the most part, one of our objectives is to get our material read by as wide an audience as possible. However, no model of publishing is free of costs and commercial risk. Yet few academics are prepared to assume any risks or pay the costs. As the originator of the intellectual property one's rights are not absolute, especially if one shares the responsibility of producing it with a professional publishing house.

I am not convinced that Elsevier is any more guilty than the other major publishersand a good many of the small ones, whose business models are sometimes considerably less viable and more debatable than those of the publishing giants.

Additionally, there is an important economic relationship between journal and book publishing, in which the funds from one may provide the income stream for investment in the other. Moreover, one should not ignore other cost-benefit relationships regarding longevity of product, continuity of brand and reputation in publishing.

If there is a concern about commercial publishers, it ought to be about the variable balance between unit costs and size of individual markets. I was once the editor of a book series under the auspices of a major player in academic publication. Whereas certain university presses in the USA have a policy of remaindering academic books after four years, the company I served keeps huge inventories indefinitely. That is a good thing. However, it is one reason why the unit costs of their books tend to be very high. The other is innate commercial conservatism. This endows the company in question with a reputation for dependability and high quality production, but it stifles economic risk-taking. As a result, sales of particular books can be very low. One book I was responsible for sold 36 copies in its first year, and this made me feel rather sorry for the author. Such a predicament can be remedied by adopting a more liberal balance sheet for marginal costs and profits in relation to projected sales figures.

Although it is not fair to adopt a "two wrongs make a right" approach, academics themselves are not free of blame. They have many restrictive practices and often suffer from disciplinary insularity. I discussed one of the restrictive practices, academic territoriality, at length in Chapter 1 of my book Confronting Catastrophe (Alexander 2000).

One thing that deserves serious opposition is the journal impact factor system, sometimes identified as the primary bibliometric tool. I believe it is not worthy of intellectual activity to have such an absurd and biassed measure, and I think it does much harm to academic work and no good whatsoever. The whole concept of impact measurement can be dismissed in three words: Thornthwaite, Horton and Huntington. In the 1950s the climatologist Colin Thornthwaite published his seminal field results on evapotranspiration on a Roneo, the ancestor of the modern photocopier machine. The document was distributed all over the world, ending up in many university libraries, and helped make his name synonymous with potential evapotranspiration, a key concept in drought measurement. The publication impact factor was zero. Robert Horton published only one substantial paper in his entire life (Horton 1945), but it made him the father of stream hydrology. And finally, Samuel Huntington published The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order in 2002. It had an enormous impact and was, in my opinion, a deeply flawed book.

The net result of the use of impact factors to characterise journals has been to boost massively the hegemony of physical over social sciences, as well as to create the illusion that inspiration, cleverness and industry are being recognised. In reality it does nothing for good ideas except, perhaps, restrict their distribution.

While commercial publishers have not opposed impact factors (but neither has anyone else), they are not any more responsible for it than the rest of us.

Nevertheless, there are many ways of ensuring that one's ideas reach a wide audience, or different audiences, but only a minority of academics know how to write well and rigorously in non-academic forms, means by which they can increase their readership at small or no cost. I refer the reader to a paper of mine on exactly that topic (Alexander 2007).

Looked at from a pragmatic point of view, for authors, the first objective is to get published. Average readership of individual academic articles is low (not merely because of any restrictions upon access, but also because of the specialised nature—dare I say the unattractiveness?—of much of what is written. Hence, dissemination is a secondary factor. One can in any case disseminate one's own work to key colleagues.

I would estimate that 70 per cent of academic publishing is motivated by personnel reasons: getting a job, keeping a job, getting tenure (where it exists), getting a higher salary or getting promotion. When I was an academic in the USA a good article in a good journal was worth $500 on my annual salary in perpetuity, thanks to merit raises. These are extraordinarily strong incentives to individuals. The rise of bibliometrics has reinforced this process, as personnel committees tend to "measure the unmeasurable" in order to make comparative assessments of academics.

The whole boycott debate is remarkably uninformed by statistics. In my field, which has 96 journals in it, some of the smaller companies are no cheaper than the major ones. However, Taylor & Francis, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell and Elsevier have much larger distribution networks. Hence, from my own point of view as an author, I can send my work to a high-cost journal published by De Gruyter, Henry Stewart or Inderscience and effectively bury it or I can send my work to Springer, Wiley, Elsevier & co. and be assured of a certain distribution, and hence a significant readership. Incidentally, the same argument does not apply to books, which have a rather different market to journals.

As for the idea of referees boycotting journals, they do that all the time. This is the pinnacle of hypocrisy, as there are plenty of academics who are very vocal when their own work takes a long time to get to review but are always "too busy" when asked to review someone else's work. Being an editor really does teach one about the underbelly of human nature!

In conclusion, I recently submitted a paper to a journal that at the start of the current year ceased to be open access. I am not quite sure why this is so, but I imagine it is because the charitable funding that kept it free to readers simply ran out. Yet someone has to foot the bill, and governments have so far proved remarkably reluctant to do so, whatever the arguments about 'knowledge in the public domain' may or may not be.


Alexander, D.E. 2000. Confronting Catastrophe: New Perspectives on Natural Disasters. Oxford University Press, New York, 282 pp.

Alexander, D.E. 2007. Making research on geological hazards relevant to stakeholders' needs. Quaternary International 171/172: 186-192.

Horton, R.E. 1945. Erosional development of streams and their drainage basins: hydrophysical approach to quantitative morphology. Bulletin of the Geological Society of America 56: 275-370.

Huntington, S.P. 2002. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Free Press, New York, 368 pp.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Preliminary Lessons from the 'Costa Concordia' shipwreck

Davos (CH), 16 January 2012. The Costa Concordia shipwreck offers some interesting observations about risk and its effect upon disaster and about evacuation. First, let us examine the question of what happened.

The Costa Concordia is a Concordia Class ship of 114,500 gross tonnage, 51,387 tonnes displacement. It was built in 2005 at Sestri Ponente, Liguria, Italy, and completed its maiden voyage in June 2006. It is owned by the UK-US company Carnival Corporation plc, the world's largest cruise ship operator. The ship was commanded by Captain Francesco Schettino, who joined Costa Cruises in 2002 and was made captain in 2006.

In the evening of Friday 13 January 2012 the Costa Concordia deviated from its regular programmed route through the Tyrrhenian Sea in order to make a close approach to Giglio, an island in the Tuscan Archipelago close to the Argentario Peninsula. Giglio is 23.8 sq. km in size, has a population of 1,458 and is economically dependent on fishing and tourism. The Costa Concordia had carried out a similar manoeuvre in August 2011, which led some people on the island to comment that it was dangerously close.

The alteration of course was not approved by the operating company and involved cancelling alarms and part of a pre-programmed route. At about 21.40 hrs CET while about 150 m from the coast of Giglio the ship struck a rock, which tore a rift about 70 m long and up to 48.8 m wide in port side of its hull (the Costa Concordia is 290.2 m in length). This caused the ship to decelerate rapidly from 15 to six knots and created a pronounced list as compartments below the waterline flooded. The ship then beached on a coastal shelf 37 m deep and less than 100 m from the coast. It was inclined at 60-70 degrees and about half-submerged.

There were 4,229 people on board, of whom about 1,000 were personnel from the multinational crew. The rest were passengers from different countries. They were evacuated over a period of less than two hours, mostly by life-raft but in a few cases by swimming ashore (and thus risking hypothermia). At the time of writing this, six bodies have been recovered and 24 passengers and four crew members are still missing, which amounts to a potential mortality of 0.5%. Sixty-four people were injured, mainly through broken limbs, cuts and abrasions and exposure or mild hypothermia.

The captain and first officer were detained by the police with the possibility that they would be indicted for manslaughter. At the time of writing efforts are underway to remove 2,380 tonnes of fuel oil from 17 double-hulled tanks and four other containers. If the oil escapes, serious damage could be done to sea-floor ecology in the vicinity of a marine reserve. Early indications are that the ship may be declared a constructive total loss, with a cost of about $500 million, and that Carnival Corporation will suffer a loss of earnings of $85-95 million in the current financial year, including the effect of the drop in value of its shares. Nevertheless, as I write negotiations are underway to conduct salvage and reflotation.

The following preliminary observations can be made on the basis of the incomplete evidence that is publicly available at the time of writing, less than three days after the event.

Risk taking. It appears that the unauthorised approach to Giglio involved substantial risk to the safety of the ship, and probably more risk than was in any way acceptable. One wonders what procedural mechanisms existed in the company to limit or avoid such risks? The technical mechanisms appeared to have been satisfactory but could be overridden. It is as well to remember that an interview with Captain Smith of the Titanic, shortly before its last voyage, recorded him as saying that his career had been distinguished by how uneventful it had been. Maritime risk is not a continuum but a spiky phenomenon, and one that can harbour great surprises (if I may be forgiven an instant of inadvertent levity).
Alarm. The first sign of problems involved a "boom and groan" noise and a substantial jolt as the ship rapidly decelerated, which also toppled or threw objects around on board. Apparently, passengers did not raise the alarm by calling external authorities for about an hour. In the meantime they were advised that there had been an electrical fault. Quite probably, passengers and crew experienced normalcy bias, the desire to believe the least threatening hypothesis. In some respects, the situation was analogous to that of the MS Estonia, which sank in the Baltic Sea in 1994 with the loss of 851 lives, 85 per cent of those on board. Over a 45-minute period, the Estonia listed 30-40 degrees before listing 90 degrees, which made evacuation from lower decks impossible. Listing was rather less on the Costa Concordia, but it nevertheless complicated movement aboard the ship. The first advice to passengers appears to have been to go to their cabins. This highlights the management difficulties experienced in the 'hiatus period' when managers do not have enough information to determine a reliable strategy and thus tend to require passive behaviour from those people they have to manage.

Evacuation. Comprehensive training meant that procedures were clear. However, despite drills, passengers had no experience of evacuation and some underestimated the risk and behaved inappropriately. A degree of chaos is inevitable in such conditions as listing complicates the launch of life rafts. Unlike the Titanic, which was grossly undersupplied with lifeboats, the Costa Concordia had some redundancy in its life raft accommodation. Nevertheless, it is difficult to launch 150-170 people into the sea from a severely listing ship. An amateur video shot by one of the evacuees was widely circulated in the mass media with the title "Lifeboat panic caught on film." However, when one watches the video clip, it tends to show the opposite, and thus confirm the absence of panic rather than its prevalence, as in so many previous disasters. Nevertheless, as fear of entrapment is one of the principal causes of panic, the conditions were ripe for it to break out, as it did on the Estonia when listing became chronic and movement was inhibited. An element of luck intervened: the ship beached on a coastal shelf in calm weather. In stormier conditions it could have slid into deeper water and sunk completely without the opportunity to evacuate almost all people on board. In valediction, there does not appear to be evidence of discriminatory evacuation which might have put vulnerable people at risk, even though at least two of the dead were senior citizens of advanced age.

Management of the aftermath. Costa Cruises appears to have adopted a standard business continuity crisis management approach based on comprehensive communication. The company distanced itself from the decision-making process that led to the disaster. It will require substantial resources in order to deal with claims: millions of euros of money and assets were abandoned aboard. There is thus a need for a system rather like the one developed by SAS Airlines and promoted by IATA for dealing with the administrative needs after an air crash—but on a larger scale.

Shore-based civil protection and coastguard forces appear to have acted well, although as in many such cases it took vital time for the enormity of the situation to be appreciated in full. The management reliance on the Prefecture of Grosseto (the province in which the disaster occurred) confirms the persistence of the 1990s model of civil protection in Italy, despite the reforms intended in the Bassanini decree-law of 1998, articles 107 and 108 of which shifted the balance of power to the regions.

Media response. Early reports reflected some of the uncertainties garnered from a mass of differing perceptions of the event. Whether the crew acted efficiently in the evacuation or not, whether the alarm was sounded in the right manner or not, whether there was panic and how much danger was involved in reaching the shore, and whether the captain abandoned ship before some of the passengers and crew are all examples of matters that were not reported reliably, perhaps with some reason. Despite the purveyance of conflicting information, the reporting was relatively free of the usual distortions. This may have been because the end result of the disaster was much less severe than it could have been if the ship had, for example, sunk in deeper water. Hence, the pervasive desire to blame was muted in this case. Human error undoubtedly played a part, negligence may have been a factor, but there was no great desire to accuse. There might have been in a more severe disaster, and in that case accusations would undoubtedly have been launched more freely. Nonetheless, the media's incessant emphasis on 'human interest' stories provided an unbalanced overview of the difficulties of evacuation, much skewed towards the extreme conditions related by a minority of people who had a relatively hard time.

Conclusion. No doubt other lessons will emerge, and these lessons will be qualified by new information. In the meantime, in one respect the Costa Concordia disaster reminds one of the Buncefield oil storage depot explosion and fire in Hertfordshire, England in 2005: out of the most tranquil situation, where routine conditions have prevailed since anyone can remember, can be born an extraordinary scenario, and perhaps an apocalyptic one. This is what 'disaster risk' can mean.

Addition 20-1-2012. Information subsequently released has tended to confirm the hypothesis of human error that overrode technical protection mechanisms and automated systems. Besides the implication of negligence, three aspects of this disaster remain particularly strinking. The first is the procedural failures regarding evacuation. Passengers (by then wearing lifejackets) were initially advised to return to their cabins. This could have led to high mortality if the ship had sunk in deep water. Moreover, opportunities to abandon ship before it started listing were wasted. Secondly, many other instances have come to light of large cruise liners, including the Costa Concordia herself, coming unacceptably close to Italian coasts. It is notable that legislation has to be enacted (by emergency decree) rather than relying on the cruise operators to excercise normal prudence and caution. Thirdly, statements made public by numerous protagonists, from ships cooks to managing directors, have been so contradictory that it is clear that the truth about this incident is in short supply.