Monday, April 6, 2009

What to do when someone cries wolf?

I was just reading the news about the earthquake in Italy. These natural disasters are always hard to cope with as there is no real logic behind them.
Of course these people were living in a potentially dangerous area but aren't most of us? Where I come from, the temperature often drops to -40°C and lower in January; a few days of that in a row and it can become dangerous. And how about Florida and hurricanes, the mid-western US and tornadoes, Switzerland and avalanches? In reality, natural disasters, in some form or other, can occur anywhere. So, whether we end up living in and around where we were born or where our work, interests and/or love life takes us; the choice is rarely driven by the risk of natural disaster. As far as I can remember, don't think I ever heard someone say something like: "Sorry honey, I love you very much and want to spend the rest of my life with you but there is no way I am moving to (insert name)! It's too damn dangerous there so goodbye."
Now, accepting the fact that we all have to face some risk where we live, how should we react if someone credible said that that risk is about to materialize? Should we run away? Stay put and not believe the information? Prepare ourselves for the situation?
Well it seems that someone did predict the earthquake in Italy: a seismologist by the name of Gioacchino Giuliani predicted it several weeks before the event. The response of the Italian authorities was to turn a blind eye, asking him to remove the information from his website to avoid a panic. Not sure it was such a great move. I have never heard of Gioacchino before so I don't know if he's the type of person who does this regularly, what is his track record, if he is well respected by his peers, etc. But if we accept he's not a quack, and we take into account that predicting earthquakes is far less exact than predicting weather (and we know how exact that can be...), wouldn't it still have been wise for the authorities to at least ask people to be ready for the eventuality? Maybe asking people that did not need to stay to move out of the area for a while; temporarily relocating people that lived in more dangerous houses to safer ones; ensuring emergency services were close by and ready; paying closer attention to the seismic situation... I'm not sure that acting on any of these suggestions would have changed the situation but it might have saved a few lives; after all nothing short of full evacuation could have saved all of them. But not doing anything is difficult to understand. Individuals can ultimately decide what they want but authorities should err on the side of caution. I guess the authorities in Italy were possibly more concerned about their own image than the lives entrusted to them.
Every once in a while, a Gioacchino comes along and we are faced with a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" dilemma. My view is that if I am to be damned, I would rather it be for doing something than for not doing anything at all.

I miei pensieri sono con le famiglie colpite da questo evento
(not sure how good the translation will be so here it is in English, just in case: My thoughts are with the families affected by this event)

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