What IS the standard of care for seismology predictions?

Our bet is that few (if any) of you are writing E&O coverage for seismologist as, to our knowledge, such a market does not exist. Perhaps there is potential, however, given the recent Italian court ruling that holds six Italian government officials and seismologists criminally and monetarily responsible for inaccurate earthquake predictions. Given the difficulty in predicting these naturally-occurring events would anyone be willing to underwrite such an exposure? From the Washington Post:

“In L’Aquila the trauma is still present and visible,” Italian GlobalVoices blogger Paola D’Orazio wrote in April. ”But stronger yet is the resentment of those families who will never see their homes again, of those who feel abandoned and who believe that not enough has been done, that in three years nothing (or almost nothing) has changed: debris and rubble piled on the streets downtown, houses propped-up in makeshift fashion, windowless buildings make up the cityscape awaiting tourists in the medieval jewel of Abruzzo.”

Italian media have reacted with sustained outrage to the quake, in part, D’Orazio says,  because a number of the victims were college students from other parts of the country, at some points comparing it to the far deadlier Fukushima crisis in Japan. That media pressure for action, as well as residents’ apparent sense of profound wounded resentment, led to what he calls “many judicial inquiries.”

The L’Aquila tragedy, as it persisted after the earthquake, did not concern solely the loss of human life during the catastrophic event: there were many judicial inquiries (some still under way) regarding the handling of the emergency, the responsibility of those companies that chose building materials and designs that were unfit for an earthquake zone (in particular, the construction of public buildings, like student housing, has come under questioning), and regarding lobbyists and other groups interested in receiving a portion of the funds allocated to reconstruction of the city and the entire seismic crater.

It’s easy to see how the public demands for blood might have built momentum for a case that, on its own, would appear absurd.

There are other theories. The Economist quotes a California-based scientist who thinks the Italian physicists got “trapped” into giving a “yes/no answer” because they were trying to downplay a local amateur’s claims of being able to predict earthquakes. A long Nature essay discusses the common misunderstanding that scientific risk assessment is the same thing as a prediction. New Scientists hints that L’Aquila officials, overwhelmed with the burden of protecting against earthquakes in an ancient fault-line city that is poorly equipped to handle them, may have shrugged their decision-making responsibilities onto the scientific advisers.

Read the full article.

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About plushq

The Professional Liability Underwriting Society (PLUS) was founded in 1986 by industry professionals who recognized the need for a forum for individuals involved in the field of professional liability. The Society is a non-profit organization with membership open to persons interested in the promotion and development of the professional liability industry. Membership consists of over 6,500 individuals, representing over 1,000 companies active in the many fields of professional liability. PLUS currently receives the support of more than 200 companies through corporate membership. PLUS is recognized as the primary source of professional liability educational programs and seminars, assistance to its members to help serve clients, and information regarding professional liability. The Society is continually seeking new means to fulfill its mission statement and better serve its members.

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