This issue has been misinterpreted and overlooked by the press, papers etc. around the world. At the very beginning of the story the most common understanding was that the seven defendants were accused of not having predicted the earthquake which occurred one week (6 April 2009) after the meeting of 31 March 2009, or for not having released any alert.
Actually this interpretation was favoured by an interview of the most authoritative source, the Chief Prosecutor (the late Alfredo Rossini) who, on 3 June 2010, the very day when the preliminary investigations had been concluded and the indictment was delivered to the seven defendants, said at one of the national TV channels:
“It is not a matter of missing alert. The alert already came from the earthquake sequence. It is a matter of missing warning to leave homes.”
These words easily spread through the media and became the main reference for the public, as the indictment document was not available, yet. The document was known later: see text and translation in the Appendix. One of the accusations, that is
“having performed an approximate, generic and ineffective assessment of the risks connected with the seismic activity on-going in the L’Aquila territory since December 2008”
became the reason for a long, complex, rough and very partial scientific analysis of what seismic risk is and how it should be assessed, performed first by the prosecutor and then put together, and expanded, in the Motivation of the Sentence. On the other hand it has to be noted that, in the allegation, the prosecutor explicitly says that
“The contributing factors, even those who represent others criminal offense, fell all in the prediction possibility of the defendants, including the assessment of short-term predictability of an earthquake with the same characteristics of the one which occurred on 6 April at 3.32”
Contrary to this and what said by the late Chief Prosecutor, the Motivation of the Sentence repeats several times that the defendants are not accused for not having predicted the earthquake, “what is obviously impossible”….(!), but for not having correctly assessed the risks.
“… Of course we do not want to say that, on the basis of hazard maps and probabilistic studies could be foreseen the shock of 6.4.09 or that, on the basis of these studies, the defendants would have to issue warnings to the population of impending shock or evacuate the entire city.
The judgment of predictability/avoidance are not dealt with the earthquake as a natural phenomenon, but with the completion of the evaluation of seismic risk according to the canons of prediction and prevention based on indicators, which are known to the accused, which are the factors of the formula R = P x V x E”.
This different statement, however, did not bring any benefit to the defendants, who have been sentenced 6 years instead of the 4 years asked by the prosecutor.
Also due to the internal contradictions of the Motivation of the sentence, the misinterpretation of the accusation did not stop. Among the most recent ones, even Alexander (2014) states that ‘‘seven functionaries of the Italian National Department of Civil Protection (DPC) – sic! – were indicted for ‘‘giving out official information that culpably misled local residents by inducing them not to take precautions against an impending earthquake disaster.’’ (see Gabrielli and Di Bucci, 2014, for an answer to the article). Marzocchi et al. (2014) write: “The 6 April earthquake became infamous worldwide because seven experts, who attended a Grandi Rischi Commission meeting on 31 March, were convicted of failing to properly warn the public about the possibility of the mainshock and were sentenced to six years in jail”.
The main parts of the accusation document have been translated: https://eagris2014.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/allegation-initial-document.pdf
Alexander D.E., 2014. Communicating earthquake risk to the public: the trial of the ‘‘L’Aquila Seven’’. Nat Hazards. doi:10.1007/s11069-014-1062-2
Gabrielli F. and Di Bucci D., 2014. Comment on ‘‘Communicating earthquake risk to the public: the trial of the ‘L’Aquila Seven’’’ by David E. Alexander. Nat Hazards, doi: 10.1007/s11069-014-1322-1
Marzocchi W., Lombardi A.M. and Casarotti E., 2014. The Establishment of an Operational Earthquake Forecasting System in Italy. Seismological Research Letters, 85, 5, 962 – 969