The Eternal City is still standing, it was not destroyed by a huge earthquake pronounced by Raffaele Bendandi, a self-taught seismologist who died in 1976, quite why people believe self taught ideas, or metaphysical ‘facts’ has long stumped me. After all I wouldn’t trust a self taught heart surgeon so why did the world, pay such attention to the ramblings of Bendandi?
Well, when he was alive he did fairly well, he predicted the January 13, 1915 which killed 30,000 people in Avezzano and also forecast the quake of May 6, 1976 in Friuli which killed 1,000 and left another 45,000 homeless. His prediction for yesterday prompted one in five residents of Rome stayed off work and children were kept out of school over earthquake fears in the end no earthquake (thankfully) materialised – how then does this lack of earthquake benefit geoscience communication?.
A few months back, the threat of a ‘supermoon’ and the Japanese brought fears of mass earthquakes around the world due to extra-terrestrial events to mainstream attention, neither were connected – but science fiction generated fear and anxiety. Alberto Michelini, (Research Director of the INGV) is glad that these proclamations are made because then people in his field can “take advantage of this moment of fear and psychosis to try to explain what we do.” There is no doubt that when people are scared they are going to act and take in information, exactly how shock tactics for campaigns and charities work; The Italian Government, in a uncharacteriscally logical way, responded to the fears in a brilliant manner;
‘Toll-free numbers were set aside at city hall to field questions. And the national geophysics institute opened its doors to the public to inform the curious and the concerned about seismology.’
This generated significant public interest – and we can assume that some of that interest, derived from anxiety and fear percolated facts into people’s minds. In the end, there was no mass exodus from the city, nor any quake,
In the Chinatown area of Rome – residents shut shop and leave – ‘for family reasons’. Image from the Telegraph. Interestingly, China was one of the major predictors of Earthquakes – many of which were real.
The phone numbers also assisted in cooling people nerves, although perhaps concerning the most number of calls were from people enquiring as to what time the quake would strike,. This, to me at least illustrates that the publics’ knowledge of seismics if pretty limited – both that they felt they needed to call and that they wanted a time to run for the hills. Maybe this false scare from the 70’s will build some knowledge.
In the end, an earthquake in Spain was the only similar event of the day, and my thoughts go out to those affected by that event.
In case you are wondering why there has been a little drought in the number of posts, it is because this blog was originally for a Communicating Geoscience module for my Masters (hence the name). This course has now been completed, so blog posts are playing second (or third) fiddle to my other work, namely 14,000 words on iron ore classification. They’ll be fresh posts periodically...