Campanian Mudslide Tragedy, Institutional Negligence, Eruption Forecasting, Towards Security Culture, VESUVIUS 2000


Campanian Mudslide Tragedy

In May, 1998, heavy rains in the Vesuvius area produced mudslides from Mount Alvano that swept down the mountain in several directions and, before the inhabitants of Sarno, Siano, Bracigliano, and Quindidi were able to escape, the mudflows buried everything on their paths. More than 200 people perished and thousands were left homeless. The mudflows were pre-announced with roars from the mountain many hours before the tragedy, but Osservatorio Vesuviano's instruments did not detect anything! Several days letter the citizens of nearby Gragnano also woke up during the night from a "strong roar" accompanied by "brief quakes" and the city Mayor requested an explanation from the observatory. The response came back one week later indicating that the "seismic stations of the observatory registered an event of probable artificial nature in the Bay of Sorrento". What was this event and its "artificial nature"? Was this caused by heavy rains or, more seriously, by magma movements below Vesuvius? A past Mayor of Torre del Greco had reasons to worry when he stated that "it is not unreasonable to hypothesize that the alarm signals on Vesuvius will be underestimated and information will be withheld from the population about the true state of the volcano before it begins showing external activity".

The earthquakes in Umbria and Marche in October, 1997, left about 20,000 people homeless and the Undersecretary for Civil Protection Barberi declared "mayors you are to blame". After the mudslides in Campania the same Undersecretary blamed the local governments for "an unsound territorial policy" and preached that it makes no sense to blame anybody because mudslides are unpredictable and that he is "not interested in polemics". The Minister of the Interior declared "undignified disaster of a civil nation". And even the President of the Republic was reluctant to propose an immediate search of responsibilities for the tragedy: "it is to be seen if anybody is responsible" Yet it took more than 3 days before the Civil Protection responded, and were it not for the immediate response of the local fire fighters and United States marines stationed with NATO in Naples, this catastrophe could have produced many more victims. Two weeks after the mudslides the Mayor of Quindici was asking the United States for help and the bulldozers were still digging.

A sound disaster prevention strategy in Campania is nonexistent and one could only imagine what will occur when Vesuvius begins unleashing its power on a population that does not have a culture of prevention and its administrators know only how to look forward to post-disaster aid. The images of mudslides from Campania of a long cemetery of mud, infinite anguish, Sarno like Pompeii, an announced tragedy, still impossible to count the dead, anger and hope, etc. failed to teach that the territory requires a sound and long-term prevention policy to protect the population from future eruptions of Vesuvius. Several weeks after Campanian mudslides the tragedy was all but forgotten. The survivors of the disaster were provided with a small compensation and the President of Giunta Regione Campania was happy with 15,000 temporary places of work. And six months later the persecutor, appointed to investigate the tragedy, has still not identified anybody responsible for the catastrophe.

Is this what will happen when Vesuvius erupts in the future? Are camora or organized crime squads going to manage the eruption operating within the Vesuvius evacuation plan? Who will be evacuated first? Those who will pay the most? Where will the public patrimony from Vesuvius area wind up? Is the 1980 Irpinian earthquake experience going to be repeated where the survivors were placed in containers and left there for more than a decade? Will it be possible to avoid the infiltration of the organized crime which in the reconstruction of Irpinia managed to control most of the contracts? Most probably it will be like this, because the Vesuvius Emergency Plan is only an illusion that the population can be protected and was designed to cover up irresponsibilities.

Institutional Negligence

The unwillingness to confront the Vesuvius problem is diffused on various levels: in cultural institutions, local, provincial, and regional governments, national Parliament, Cabinet Ministers, and all the way to the President of the Republic. Since 1994 we have been actively soliciting countless individuals on various institutional levels for addressing the Vesuvius problem seriously, but these individuals never produced any concrete actions for the territory. The following is just a partial list of those who were solicited: January 11 and June 24, 1994, Mayor of Naples, A. Bassolino; March 10, 1994, MURST Minister, U. Colombo; July 15, 1994, Prime Minister, S. Berlusconi; September 30, 1994, director of Osservatorio Vesuviano, L. Civetta; September 30, 1994, president of Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica, E. Boschi; December 2, 1994, Interior Minister, R. Maroni; December 2, 1994, President of Giunta Regione Campania, G. Grasso; August 21, 1995, 18 Mayors of the Vesuvius area (E. Parrella, A. Vella, G. Capasso, A. Borrelli, F. Amoruso, A. Blasco, V. Balzano, S. Staiano, C. Miglione, C. De Iesu, R. Guarriera, G. Annunziata, G. Ferrer, G. D'Ambrosio, A. Auriema, M. Romano, A. Ammendola, O. Sassi); September, 20, 1995, Cardinal of Naples, M. Giordano; November 8, 1995, President of Giunta Regione Campania, A. Rastrelli; December 1, 1995, Prime Minister, L. Dini; January 24, 1996, Italian Parliament members, President of the Republic, O.L. Scalfaro; November 7, 1997, Italian Parliament members, President of the Republic, O.L. Scalfaro, Prime minister, R. Prodi, MURST Minister, L. Berlinguer, President of CNR, L. Bianco, President of European Commission, J. Santer, Rector of the University of Naples Federico II, F. Tessitore; February 19, 1998, Presidents of the Senate and House, N. Mancino and L. Violante, MURST Minister, L. Berlinguer, Minister of the Interior, G. Napolitano, Undersecretary for Civil Protection, F. Barberi, President of Giunta Regione Campania, A. Rastrelli, President of the Province of Naples, A. Lamberti, Prefect of Naples, G. Romano, Superintendent of Schools of Naples, S. Cina', Director of Osservatorio Vesuviano, L. Civetta; March 9, 1998, Pope Paul II; March 30, 1998, President of the Republic, O.L. Scalfaro; March 30, 1998, President of Confindustria, G. Fossa; March 30, 1998, President of the Republic, O.L. Scalfaro.

It is incredible that so many institutional "leaders" behave so irresponsibly. In public they tend to appear educated and act politely while their actions demonstrate the contrary. They are not interested in changing the status quo in the Vesuvius area and utilize the volcanologists and Osservatorio Vesuviano to protect them in the case of an emergency. In return for this protection they provide the volcanologists with ample financial rewards and institutional privileges while the Vesuvius area population is kept under the illusion that it can be protected from the volcano by an nonfuncional evacuation plan. The Vesuvius area issues are thus more complex than those pertaining to the volcanic risk, for the conflicts about power and responsibility and who governs whom and for what ends the public policies are being used involve conflicts beyond the risk. Under these circumstances any technical issues associated with different volcanic risk mitigation strategies are reduced to useless polemics and the efforts to communicate expert guidance about technical details are futile.

Eruption Forecasting

It is impossible to predict future eruptions of Vesuvius with a great deal of precision because of the difficulty in developing an accurate physico-mathematical model of the volcanic complex and the lack of complete eruption history that is stochastic in nature. Nevertheless, it is possible to produce the probabilities of future eruptions and thus assess our ignorance in eruption predictions.

For this purpose GVES is developing a Global Volcanic Simulator which consists of physico-mathematical models of the volcanic system that model different parts of the volcano. Current capabilities of the Simulator allow for magma chamber, volcanic conduit, and pyroclasts distribution modeling. The magma chamber model accounts for reservoir volume, temperature, and pressure changes, variable rates of magma inflow and outflow from the chamber, and varying elastic, plastic, and heat transfer characteristics of magma reservoir surroundings. Different types of magma ascent models allow for steady-state, time-varying, isothermal, and non-isothermal simulations, and account for magma flow regime changes and melting of conduit walls caused by decreasing pressure and heat loss from the ascending hot magma. A combination of these models allows forecasting long-term eruptions, durations of eruptions, as well as the likely values of conduit size and gas-pyroclasts pressure, temperature, and velocity distributions at the conduit exit. These conditions are then used in a volcanic column or plume model of the Simulator to produce temporal and spatial distributions of volcanic products in the atmosphere and along the slopes of the volcano. From this modeling procedure and from carrying out many simulations with different parameters (magma chamber location and size, structural characteristics of magma chamber surroundings) that describe the volcanic system, a future subplinian or plinian eruption of Vesuvius should occur with equal chance within the next 100 years, with an uncertainty of plus or minus 100 years. This uncertainty is produced from the incomplete knowledge of the volcano.

The eruptive history of Vesuvius for the past 300,000 years provides additional useful information. This history demonstrates that the periods between the eruptions and magnitudes of eruptions are stochastic in nature and follow well-known probabilistic laws which are more reliable for larger than for smaller eruptions. The results from this information, extrapolated into the future, demonstrate that the probabilities of large explosive eruptions are:

Probability(500 years)=0.99
Probability(100 years)=0.90
Probability (50 years)=0.75
Probability(10 years)=0.30
Probability(1 year)=0.04

These results attest that it is almost certain that a large eruption of Vesuvius will occur every 500 years. Since the last large eruption in 1631 (367 years ago) a very high probability thus exists for a similar or larger eruption in the near future, and especially in the 21st century as also assessed independently by the Global Volcanic Simulator as discussed above. When this probabilistic information is combined with the decision theory involving small, medium, and large eruptions it can be shown that the likelihood ratios of future eruptions are as follows:

Likelihood ratio(1 week for evacuation) is greater than 1000
Likelihood ratio(1 month for alert) is greater that 100
Likelihood ratio (100 years) for prevention is greater than 0.1

It should be clear, therefore, that in the absence of clear eruption precursors it is not possible to predict the eruption on short notice or several weeks in advance as stated by the volcanologists who proposed the Vesuvius evacuation plan and that the only way to protect the population is through a long term prevention strategy. For the eruptions of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Pinatubo in 1991 clear precursors manifested themselves only several days before the eruptions and our weather predicting capacity does not exceed likelihood ratios of about 5. The architects of the Vesuvius evacuation plan (Osservatorio Vesuviano, Protezione Civile, Gruppo Nazionale per la Vulcanologia) fail, however, to notice these laws of nature and will continue to ignore and deny them because to survive they must constantly project an image that they can really protect the population by only monitoring the volcano. This kind of policy is scientifically unjustifiable and only demonstrates that those who support it are blind to the alternatives or are only interested in their own personal interests.

Towards Security Culture

There would be no risk if there were nothing to gain from taking some risk. And to prevent or reduce the risk we must incur the cost of taking precautions. Our natural or Darwinian tendency is to economize or adopt to the situations at hand - a tendency which is somehow entrenched in our habits of mind as species. This tendency to economize as species can be expressed in terms of opportunities that are available to accept risk and the danger that is averted by taking precautions.

Risk Matrix
YES Opportunity NO Opportunity
YES Danger 1 2
NO Danger 3 4 (Indifference)

The costs of precautions are indicated in the Figure on the horizontal axis (yes and no opportunities), whereas the danger of doing without these precautions on the vertical axis. Often, the costs of avoiding one risk include the costs of accepting some other risk. An individual may not be sensitive to all risks and costs in a situation, but when this occurs some sort of global risk averaging must take place in order to minimize risky decisions. In cell 1 an individual is aware of the danger and there is an opportunity or incentive of taking precautions against the risk. In this situation a risk is considered seriously and there is a strong chance that the individual will do something about it (protest, collaborate, invest). On the other extreme in cell 4 the danger and opportunity are perceived as being low and an individual behaves indifferently. When in other cells one is either convinced about the danger but not opportunity (cell 2) or convinced about the opportunity but not danger (cell 3). A person ordinarily moves from cell 4 to cell 2 and if there is no opportunity slips backs to indifference of cell 4. This is the average behavior of Vesuvius area citizens, because even after educating some of them about the potential danger from Vesuvius the area administrators have not been producing opportunities to create a risk conscious population. Few individuals remain in cell 2 and even fewer remain in cell 3. Most of the people in the Vesuvius area act therefore indifferently, and even if a minority is concerned by being in cell 2 it must adopt to the social choice of the majority. The Vesuvius area administrators prefer to keep it this way to eliminate risky political choices that would be associated with a risk-conscious population. The governing elites thus see the risk matrix differently. They have apparently decided that governing is more effective when keeping the people ignorant (high danger of educating them) and under control (elite class tightly controlling the resources). A security- conscious Vesuvius area population would belong in cell 1 and thus have the tendency to strip the power from organized crime and those who govern them badly.

The Vesuvius Emergency Plan tends to move the population only into cell 2 where there is the perception of danger but not provision of opportunities until an eruption becomes eminent or after it is practically over. But when this occurs it will be too late for many to take advantage of opportunities (post-eruption reconstruction aid). Providing a risk opportunity only after a disaster cannot be regarded as social progress, and a massive evacuation or escape strategy does not create the necessary conditions for effective risk mitigation, but only illusions of safety. An alternative strategy that tends to bring the population into cell 1 and keep it there is VESUVIUS 2000, but both the volcanologists and local and national administrators fail to understand this new type of risk mitigation paradigm.


Future catastrophes in the Vesuvius area can be prevented only if a secure environment can be created for people living around the volcano. Such an environment cannot be produced by evacuation plans which by definition are designed only for managing emergencies, but by information campaigns of risk education and provision of economic incentives aimed at achieving collaboration among different actors and reorganization of the territory. These actors are people from all class levels who live and work in the area and whose future generations will have to confront the devastating eruptions. In a well-organized or secure environment people are aware of the danger and are also confident that the danger can be averted, because they have been prepared how to behave in an emergency. A risk-conscious population is not told what to do or how to march under the command of a director but knows which actions must take in the event of an emergency. In the ideal situation the territory at risk should autoregulate itself and there should be a great deal of trust between the people and their administrators. All of these characteristics are currently lacking in the Vesuvius area, and its current Emergency Plan cannot create them because it was not designed for this purpose. A plan which only provides an illusion of safety and where its architects and supporters keep sending messages that <> while the population and scientists are being kept in the dark what exactly is under control was not designed to produce security for the population but to control it for the purpose of extracting political and economic benefits in favor of the plan's architects and supporters. VESUVIUS 2000 works in the opposite direction. Its basic premise is that a secure cohabitation of people with volcano is possible and that this cohabitation can produce socio-economic, scientific, and cultural benefits to the population without bringing adverse effects to the environment. As such, VESUVIUS 2000 does not aim at a massive escape from Vesuvius in the event of an emergency, but at preparing the people and territory to confront the emergencies with minimum cultural and socio-economic losses. Because of many detrimental habits of mind in the Vesuvius area this preparation must commence years or even decades in advance of an eruption.

The hazards from future eruptions of Vesuvius cannot be eliminated, but their effects on the territory can be controlled by reorganizing the environment where people live and work. Different areas around the volcano are exposed to different earthquake, volcanic (lava, pyroclastic, and mudflows), and hydrogeologic hazards which must prominently enter into risk analysis. Risk analysis also includes people and dwellings because they also contribute to the vulnerability and value in the risk balance equation. Different actors on the territory should, therefore, become aware why it is necessary to work together to create the security and why this security cannot be built on unreliable predictions of volcanic eruptions or deportation of population and destruction of its culture, but on carefully tending to the habits of mind of Vesuvius area citizens to safeguard their positive habits and eliminate, or at least reduce, their negative ones. Without such care it is impossible to produce a change of the current paradigm of resignation, fatalism, power of ignorance, clientelism, etc. VESUVIUS 2000 aims to address these and other issues and its purpose is to bring the population into cell 1 of the risk matrix. In this state the people are fully aware not only of the danger but also of the opportunities to avert the danger. Many people are aware of the first because the volcano was active until recently, but they are not aware of the second or they do not see how to take advantage of the first to produce conditions for the second. This is what VESUVIUS 2000 is all about, but the entrenched habits of mind of the people living around the volcano prevent from seeing how to overcome this incommensurability paradox. It is also unfortunate that the leaders of the European Union and those of many Italian cultural, scientific, and political institutions are blind to the entire Vesuvius problem and how to take advantage of it for their own interests.

VESUVIUS 2000 requires that the Vesuvius problem be addressed through interdisciplinary projects involving engineers, geophysicists, urban planners, sociologists, educators, economists, environmentalists, educators, civil service protection volunteers, and population. Its central objectives are:

The ultimate objective of VESUVIUS 2000 is not only to produce an accurate probabilistic risk assessment, or expected human, material, socio-economic, environmental, and cultural losses in the Vesuvius area due to future eruptions of the volcano, but also to discover methods of risk reduction through autoregulation of the territory and education of population. For this purpose it is necessary to organize seminars and workshops that bring together general population, experts, and local and national administrators, with goals to establish effective interdisciplinary collaborations or projects leading to the redistribution of productive and nonproductive resources on the territory. Making the population conscious about its environment can produce new economic and cultural opportunities because this requires economic investments into the reorganization of the territory.

It is unfortunate, however, that the local, national, and European Union administrators are blind to the entire Vesuvius problem and that they have been unable to support the VESUVIUS 2000 initiative and are hiding behind an emergency plan that was designed only to create an illusion of safety. Such an emergency "culture" is not only detrimental for the Vesuvius area but also for the growth of Western Civilization. Computer simulations and eruption statistics strongly suggest a large eruption of Vesuvius in the near future and by ignoring our call for concrete collaborations and actions (VESUVIUS 2000), the local, national, and European Union leaders are preparing the territory for a human and environmental catastrophe.

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