What to do in an earthquake in Italy

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What to do in an earthquake in Italy
The aftermath of a 4.8-magnitude earthquake in Catania, Sicily, in the area around Europe's most active volcano Mount Etna. Earthquakes are not unusual in Italy but there are steps you can take to prepare. (Photo by Giovanni ISOLINO / AFP)

Though the majority cause little or no damage, earthquakes are a common occurrence in Italy. Here's how to prepare and what to know about staying safe.


Earthquakes are an inescapable part of life in Italy, and if you live in the country chances are that you're in or close to an area of seismic risk.

Italy is among the European countries which experience the highest number of earthquakes, according to mapping by the European Facilities for Earthquake Hazard and Risk (EFEHR).

MAP: Which parts of Italy have the highest risk of earthquakes?

But it's important to remember that, while frequent, earthquakes in Italy are likely to be small - 4.0 magnitude or less.


Even small tremors can be unnerving however, particularly for people from countries where earthquakes are not an everyday consideration.

And, while the vast majority of the quakes and tremors felt in Italy every year cause no injury or damage, the country does occasionally suffer severe earthquakes such as the tragedies in Amatrice in 2016 and L'Aquila in 2009; events which are never far from Italians' minds whenever an earthquake is reported in the news.

The city centre of L'Aquila, central Italy, is still being rebuilt after the 2009 earthquake. (Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP)

If you do live in an area where earthquakes are a risk, there are steps you can take to secure your home and plan ahead to minimise any damage.

Here's the official advice from Italy's Department for Civil Protection on what you shold do before, during, and after an earthquake in Italy.

Before an earthquake:

  • Find out what the seismic classification of your town or municipality is (see here and here for more information, in Italian). Depending on risk level, your local authority will have different emergency plans in place and there will be differing construction requirements for buildings, and in some cases funding available for earthquake-proofing.
  • Find out where the electric, gas and water mains are located in your home and how to shut these systems off, as they could be damaged during an earthquake.
  • Avoid keeping heavy items on high shelves. Secure heavier furniture to the wall.
  • Keep a first aid kit, a flashlight, a battery-operated radio, and a fire extinguisher at home, and make sure that every member of the family knows where they are stored.
  • Find out whether your school or workplace has a contingency plan in place and what it is.

During an earthquake

  • If you are indoors, seek shelter in a doorway inserted in a load-bearing wall (the thicker ones) or under a beam, as this can protect you from possible collapses.
  • Take cover under a table.
    It is dangerous to be near furniture, heavy objects and glass that could fall on you.
  • Don't rush to the stairs or use the elevator. Sometimes the stairs are the weakest part of the building, and the elevator can get stuck and prevent you from getting out.
  • If you are driving, avoid coastal roads and do not park near bridges or beaches. They could be damaged or hit by tsunami waves.
  • If you are outdoors, move away from buildings and power lines. They could collapse.
  • Stay away from industrial plants and power lines. Accidents are possible.
  • Stay away from lake edges and marine beaches. Tsunami waves may occur.
  • Avoid using the phone (landline) and car. It is important to leave telephone lines and the roads open so as not to hinder rescue efforts.


After an earthquake

  • Check on the people around you.
  • Do not try to move seriously injured people.
  • Go outside with caution, wearing shoes.
  • Reach an open space, away from buildings and other structures.

For more information check your regional or local authority's website or see the Department for Civil Protection website here.


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maryaustern 2023/02/11 10:46
I'm an architect from California who was there during the Loma Prieta Earthquake (and many others). From my personal experience, candles are a good alternative for a flashlight. And don't forget the matches or lighter. Keep your glassware in a cupboard with a door to keep everything from falling to the floor - which in darkness can be very dangerous. Also, keep some water stored in a place where it won't be crushed in a quake. There are earthquake kits online, but most items you can assemble yourself. And, here are a few tips from California site: "TIPS FOR EARTHQUAKE SAFETY 1) Most everyone who simply ‘ducks and covers’ when building collapse are crushed to death. People who get under objects, like desks or cars, are crushed. 2) Cats, dogs and babies often naturally curl up in the fetal position. You should too in an earthquake. It is a natural safety/survival instinct. You can survive in a smaller void. Get next to an object, next to a sofa, next to a bed, next to a large bulky object that will compress slightly but leave a void next to it. 3) Wooden buildings are the safest type of construction to be in during an earthquake. Wood is flexible and moves with the force of the earthquake. If the wooden building does collapse, large survival voids are created. Also, the wooden building has less concentrated, crushing weight. Brick buildings will break into individual bricks. Bricks will cause many injuries but less squashed bodies than concrete slabs. 4) If you are in bed during the night and an earthquake occurs, simply roll off the bed. A safe void will exist around the bed. Hotels can achieve a much greater survival rate in earthquakes, simply by posting a sign on the back of the door of every room telling occupants to lie down on the floor, next to the bottom of the bed during an earthquake. 5) If an earthquake happens and you cannot easily escape by getting out the door or window, then lie down and curl up in the fetal position next to a sofa, or large chair. 6) Most everyone who gets under a doorway when buildings collapse is killed. How? If you stand under a doorway and the doorjamb falls forward or backward you will be crushed by the ceiling above. If the door jam falls sideways you will be cut in half by the doorway. In either case, you will be killed! 7) Never go to the stairs. The stairs have a different ‘moment of frequency’ (they swing separately from the main part of the building). The stairs and remainder of the building continuously bump into each other until structural failure of the stairs takes place. The people who get on stairs before they fail are chopped up by the stair treads – horribly mutilated. Even if the building doesn’t collapse, stay away from the stairs. The stairs are a likely part of the building to be damaged. Even if the stairs are not collapsed by the earthquake, they may collapse later when overloaded by fleeing people. They should always be checked for safety, even when the rest of the building is not damaged. 8) Get near the outer walls of buildings or outside of them if possible – It is much better to be near the outside of the building rather than the interior. The farther inside you are from the outside perimeter of the building the greater the probability that your escape route will be blocked. 9) People inside of their vehicles are crushed when the road above falls in an earthquake and crushes their vehicles; which is exactly what happened with the slabs between the decks of the Nimitz Freeway. The victims of the San Francisco earthquake all stayed inside of their vehicles. They were all killed. They could have easily survived by getting out and sitting or lying next to their vehicles. Everyone killed would have survived if they had been able to get out of their cars and sit or lie next to them. All the crushed cars had voids 3 feet high next to them, except for the cars that had columns fall directly across them. 10) Large voids are found surrounding stacks of paper." Stay safe.

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