Insurance: Earthquake Risk Spotlight on Italy

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August 2016 Earthquake Strikes the Region Historically Prone to Earthquake Disasters

Italy is a vibrant country with a rich history of architecture, art, culture and culinary traditions. It is also a very seismically active region with an extensive history of damaging earthquakes. Destructive earthquakes regularly occur across the country, resulting in significant economic loss and human casualties. Since 1900, earthquake disasters in Italy have caused more than 115,000 deaths1, mostly in the central and southern part of the country. This relatively large number of casualties and immense economic losses is the result of both the high seismic activity, as well as the extreme vulnerability of the built environment, particularly the old masonry buildings.

Most recently, on August 24, 2016, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake2 occurred in the mountainous region of Umbria in central Italy, devastating towns in the Umbria, Lazio and Marche regions and killing approximately 300 people, many of whom resided in the small village of Amatrice near the epicenter. This earthquake struck very near to the location of the 2009 L’Aquila Earthquake3 that also killed 300 people and devastated the nearby city of L’Aquila. Both of these devastating earthquakes occurred in an area of complex geological structure and faulting, which is the reason for the high rate of earthquakes and seismic hazard in central Italy.

With earthquakes, location and proximity to exposure are the key factors in understanding if the event will cause damage4. The August 24 earthquake occurred in the Apennines Mountains in Italy near a few small, sparsely populated towns, resulting in significant damage and loss of life, but had this event struck near a larger city, the impact could have been much worse. The remote mountainous location limited the extent of damage, but also contributed to the difficulty in rescue efforts. Additionally, the high level of devastation can be attributed primarily to the vulnerability of the structures in the region. In most cases, the buildings with the greatest level of damage were very old, masonry buildings, which usually respond poorly to high levels of ground motion. As shown in the United States Geological Survey (USGS) ShakeMap5, the strongest ground motions correlate to a perceived level of shaking equivalent to VIII, or severe on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale6, and great damage to poor structures can be expected.



Understanding earthquake hazard is the first step to preparing for and managing risk. The seismological community continues to make advancements in the understanding of seismic hazard in Italy and across Europe with the Seismic Hazard Harmonization in Europe (SHARE)7, a collaborative project that has established a seamless seismic hazard map across the continent. Combining this hazard data with an understanding of the damageability of structures through engineering analyses, building practices and loss data from previous earthquakes can help provide a comprehensive analytical view of the risk.

Earthquakes remain one of the greatest natural catastrophe risks around the world because of their lack of warning and high damage potential. Focusing on understanding the areas of risk and taking the appropriate steps to be prepared, including mitigation of vulnerable structures and learning the best way to stay safe 8, can help reduce the impact and loss of life from an earthquake.



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