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What is the field of inquiry? how have you defined it and what is the context for this investigation?

By its very nature, Italy have always been an highly seismic region: the “boot” originated in fact right on top of a bent of the fault that separates the European tectonic plate from the African one.

Only after year 2000, Italy have been hit by more than 50 earthquakes over magnitude 5. Marche (1997), San Giuliano di Puglia (2002) L’Aquila (2009), Mirandola (2012), Ascoli Piceno (2016) and Ischia (2012) earthquakes passed magnitude 6, resulting in 600+ deaths, 2500 injured and 95.000 families displaced from their homes.

What are the challenges?

As per every natural disaster, this situation poses the typical challenges of emergencies: how to plan for something exceptional, without being sure which resources will be available? How do you reach a site if the road network is down? How do you heat a camp without electricity? How do you ensure kids safety without schools? What will adults do without places to work?

Over the human tragedy behind these numbers, another layer of complexity emerges: the density of valuable historical buildings is exceptionally high. Despite occupying the 72nd country in terms of territory, Italy ranks first by number of UNESCO protected sites. Not only churches, monuments and castles are endangered, but a large quota of the center Italy population lives in buildings dating before 20th century, and on landscapes – not bricks – which are alive and lived, while being protected for their unique, historical beauty. This heightens the number of casualties and the overall amount of damages, as well as making it more difficult to work both on the prevention and after the events.

Seismic map of Italy

A map showing earthquakes over magnitude 5 from 2000 to 2017. The red line represents the fold dividing the european and african plates.

On the prevention side, investments in structural resistance are high for the population, who mainly inherited these buildings from their families, and difficult to evaluate on the large scale (by the authorities or investment funds), due to the extreme complexity in pricing the value of each unique piece composing the landscape.

In the aftermath of a catastrophic events, the population is strongly weakened in every action and focused in its immediate safety. The advices of the experts, especially the UNHCR, to involve the population in the relief process are hard to follow. The different bodies that intervenes for the relief (authorities, NGOs and voluntary associations), have strong focus on saving lives and organising the communities, while little competences in history and little support of technology. Sparse and incomplete databases of valuable buildings in fact covers part of the heritage, but are definitely insufficient when it comes to private houses, seldom taken into account due to the already high amount of symbolic buildings to be considered.

Castelluccio di Norcia

A residential settlement in the middle of Italy, before and after the 2015 Earthquake.

How have those challenges been addressed with new businesses, initiatives or strategies so far?

Within this context, promising signs are arising from the technological advancements: ubiquitous connections, real time data-availability, digital fabrication and artificial intelligence – to name some – opens up promising tools to be harnessed. To name few recent and effective initiative

How have they been addressed in features or stats? How do they compare to similar challenges elsewhere?
  • emergency check-ins from Facebook friends in the aftermath of natural or anthropic disasters;
  • firefighters exploiting drones to quickly assess the status of villages after the Amatrice hearthquake;
  • Specialised voluntary teams are currently being trained for the peculiar case of cultural heritage areas;
  • Robots are used to recycle existing bricks and give them new life
  • The delivery of emergency messages from FEMA through the wifi networks has been successfully tested
Digital manufacturing and recycled bricks

FabUnion used advanced robotics to use old bricks in an innovative way in Shangai.

Research questions
The process
  • What is currently ongoing right-after events? Who intervenes at each stage of the relief process? Who does what?
  • How do are interventions currently prioritized?
The population involvement
  • What is the share between external intervention and population effort during recovery?
  • How is the population involved?
Funding the relief process
  • How are funds sourced and managed? Where do they come from?
  • Are public (EU, central government and regions) funds sufficient?
Privates intervention
  • How can privates intervene in the process?
  • Have innovative business models and economies have been tested in emergency situations (sharing economies, alternative coins, bargain…)?
  • How does the situation compares internationally? What are the ratios between earthquake strength, losses and damages?
Quantitative explorations

Quantitative research will be addressed to numerically frame each step of the relief process, from the “moment zero” of the event up to the complete recovery. Classifications of different needs at different steps of the recovery process is available on Red Cross databases, The International Bank for Reconstruction and Redevelopment archives, UNHCR archives, FEMA archives.

Response, relief  –  0 to 48+ hours

Search and rescue, security, water&food, shelter&sanitation, where the most effective work is done by local teams. Responsive strategies organised by Protezione Civile, Italian Red Cross, the Army, Police and Healthcare personnel. Comparison over the last 3 events over magnitude 6 in terms of deaths, injured, damages, job losses, kids without access to educational facilities. Alternative organizational patterns from foreign benchmarks.

Sources: earthquake datasets USGS and NGDC, mentioned organizational website, Ministero degli Interni (internal affairs ministry) archives, newspaper articles.

Emergency Relief – weeks to months

Restoration of the basic services and functions. Funding from the Italian government and European Union, other sources of funding. Main strategies to finance relief, with focus on schools, housing and symbolic buildings policies. Comparison over the last 3 events over magnitude 6 in terms of displaced management, funding amount and investment strategy, workforce management (number of job lost and employment share evolution), service effectiveness. Benchmarking with international best practices.

Sources: earthquake datasets USGS and NGDC, UNESCO databases, Charity and Funds websites, affected Municipality databases, labour datasets in ISTAT websites.

Reconstruction- months to years

Full resumption of services. Comparison over the last 3 events over magnitude 6 in terms of funding amount, investment strategy, architectural and landscape implications. Benchmarking with international best practices.

Sources: UNESCO databases, Charity and Funds websites, national heritage preservation organizations (FAI, Legambiente…), ANPI (national association of builder) websites.

Qualitative explorations

Qualitative exploration will be carried out with people facing different steps of the relief process: from people in recently hit areas to people who have already rebuilt their houses.

What they were instructed to do, how where they prepared? What did they actually do, how they felt?

Which kind of tools and technologies where they using? How did they help them? What they were missing?

In particular:

  • Observation of historical center of Norcia, where the city was destroyed right after the introduction of anti-earthquake building laws. Identity, symbolic building loss, but a population which is used to continuous earthquakes. Resident, shop-owners, mayor, people still leaving in temporary wooden facilities.
  • Discussion with Gualdo Tadino inhabitants, whose house was destroyed in the 1997 event. Life after the shock.
  • L’Aquila observation: reconstruction strategy of a devastated city. Architects and engineers. Fact checking with inhabitants.

Experts will be identified during qualitative researches in both the 3 areas:

  • Professionals intervening in emergency situations. In particular ANAS engineers, Politecnico researchers, Civil Protection, associations and  NGOs responsible. ANAS Manager, Ugo Dibennardo; Capo del Dipartimento della Protezione Civile, Fabrizio Curcio.
  • Researchers and professional involved in the relief process. Politecnico Researcher in structure engineering, Fabio Bazzucchi; Politecnico Researcher in heritage preservation, Davide Mezzino; UCL structure earthquake workshop team. Professionals redesigning L’Aquila;
  • Entrepreneurs and technologist who have recently developed application that have been or could be used in the context. VP of Product Management of Facebook, Naomi Gleit; Capo Vigili del Fuoco Drones team; Brigham Young University team who recon with drones the central italy heritage.
Marco Maria Pedrazzo

Author Marco Maria Pedrazzo

I love to understand how things work, from technological engineering to social communities. I take on work enthusiastically and learn quickly. I love star wars and cats, but dogs are no problem. Most importantly, I love people. It’s a quite general statement but I do: I spend time understanding how they feel and think, believing it’s the only real way to solve problems. I am a trained architect and licensed engineer, with a focus on computation in design. My defining projects in this emergent field span humanitarian design (Open Source Emergency Shelter) to urban systems (Social Computation for urban mobility, with MIT Senseable City Lab). I graduated from the highly selective Alta Scuola Politecnica, and served as an active leader in polytechnic institutes and design schools on Smart Cities, strategy and UX. At the innovative architecture and technology studio Carlo Ratti Associati, I focused my work on creating transformative spatial experiences through design and technology.

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