Emergency Evacuation Plan for the Vesuvius Area


Edition of 1995

Deportation of Vesuvians The National Emergency Evacuation Plan for the Vesuvius Area [1] (denoted below as “the Plan”) prepared by the Dipartimento della Protezione Civile (Department of Civil Protection) of Italy and made available on 25 September 1995 to the members of a Commission responsible for the approval of the Plan is more a disaster management than a disaster prevention plan. The Plan is based on an eruption scenario similar to the 1631 eruption of Vesuvius which killed several thousand people and destroyed much of the territory in the Vesuvius area. It was developed by assuming that about 600,000 people in the immediate danger zone of the volcano and several hundred thousand people in close proximity of this zone will need to be evacuated. As such, the Plan is not a risk management plan for it does not deal with a selected evacuation determined from a detailed assessment of future eruption scenarios and complete vulnerability estimations and economic value of the territory. The Plan also assumes that the scientific community (the Plan's architects) will be able to predict the eruption about 20 days in advance of the eruption and that in one week about 600,000 people can be evacuated and resettled all over Italy (p. 6 of report). The 157 page report with many color illustrations is an improvement in the number of pages and graphics, but not much in substance over the previous report released several years earlier (1992), which received severe criticisms regarding the inability of volcanic risk managers in the Vesuvius area to operate correctly.

The contents of the Plan require a reexamination of the continuing investment of millions of euros on the part of the Italian government into institutions responsible for the production of this plan that lacks a proper reliability study of its systems and where much of the reported data remain inaccessible for detailed scrutiny by the scientific community and Vesuvius area population. The Plan fails to be convincing that either a volcanic emergency in the Vesuvius area will be declared on time with any precision or that a catastrophe in the atrea will be avoided. Let us look at some of the details of this plan.

Section A of the Plan describes the expected event which is assumed to be similar to the 1631 eruption of Vesuvius, present monitoring strategy of the volcano, and seismic vulnerability in the Vesuvius area. While the volcanologists and historians have had some success in reconstructing the 1631 eruption of Vesuvius, it should be noted that there is at present a considerable controversy regarding what really happened (see literature on p. 20 of the report). The volcanic risk levels defined on pages 22-29 are highly subjective and the alarm status (risk level 4) is defined simply as more data of abnormal activity of the volcano. A section describing the present monitoring strategy at Vesuvius describes geochemical, seismic, geodetic, deformation, gravimetric, etc. monitoring networks managed by Osservatorio Vesuviano without indicating what data thresholds or precursors are necessary for issuing the eruption alarm. The vulnerability data presented in the report for various communities in the Vesuvius area only account for the seismic vulnerability of public buildings and exclude the vulnerability of population, infrastructures (electricity, transportation systems, etc.), cultural systems, and the effects of the volcanic event itself in establishing the vulnerability parameters. Moreover, the report does not make available the methods used for vulnerability calculations, but refers to these methods as inclusions to the report and available for consultation only by the members of the commission responsible for the Plan at Regione Campania (regional government).

Section B of the Plan involves planning elements where high risk zones (zones 1-5 with red, orange and green colors) and low risk zones (yellow colors) are defined. Zones 1 and 5 (red) are near the coast and are identified with the highest risk with an assumed total destruction and high exodus of the population. An evacuation of about 600,000 people to different localities throughout Italy, but not to Naples, is assumed to occur in a week with about 40 trains per day leaving the area (Fig. 21/bis) and probably under very high levels of seismic activity and ground deformation. The Plan is not clear as to why the population must be moved far from the volcano. Perhaps the intention of plan architects is to “deport” the population and disperse it all over Italy and thus prevent its subsequent reentry and avoid a repetition of the same problem in the future. It is not clear whether this is indeed a viable strategy to save many people, since such a strategy has a clear tendency to destroy much of the Vesuvius area culture and leave the evacuated region wide open to the speculators. The Plan also makes no statement as to who will be evacuated first and how the populations from different communities will reach the transportation systems in Naples and vicinity, but only refers this task to the order police. Moreover, the Plan implicitly assumes that the transportation systems will be fully functional during the exodus and that the population will not panic. Such assumptions are not only scientifically unacceptable but also morally wrong in the absence of a full consensus from the population. One wonders how many architects of the evacuation plan ever took trips to Vesuvius area communities during normal days, let alone during a light rain which completely blocks city traffic and access to highways. The Plan also assumes that the deportees of the Vesuvius area will be received in many Italian communities without these communities fearing socio-economic and cultural changes. The section concludes with a resettlement of the Vesuvius area after the eruption and notes that this will be extremely slow (p. 76), suggesting that there will only be a selected resettlement where the population may even be required to pay for its own land to get it back from the speculators and inefficient government authorities responsible for subsequent management of a resettlement policy.

Section C of the Plan deals with the intervention plan which is divided into 6 phases involving 7 risk levels and 5 operational centers on the territory. The Plan not only assumes that these centers will remain fully operational during the seismic and ground deformation, but also that a false alarm will not occur. One would like to know who of the scientists from Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Gruppo Nazionale per la Difesa dei Terremoti, Osservatorio Vesuviano etc. will be responsible for predicting the volcanic eruption 20 days in advance, since our experiences with similar volcanoes, such as Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Pinatubo in 1991, are that the scientists are very conservative in forecasting an eruption without the objective data. The fundamental questions which the Plan does not even address are therefore: Who will give the order and when to evacuate, and what may be the consequences of these orders if a false alarm or a tardive alarm is given. Section C concludes with 14 functional supporting structures to the Plan, such as scientific and technical centers, sanitation, mass media, materials, transportation systems, telecommunication, censors, dangerous materials, evacuation logistics, etc.

The National Emergency Evacuation Plan for the Vesuvius Area has very little value to the Vesuvius area population. The Plan excludes the consultation with and participation from its principal actor which is the population of the area. The proposed evacuation has the tendency to destroy the Vesuvius area culture, open doors to speculators, and abusive resettlement by non-Vesuvius area citizens after the eruption. Because this should be unacceptable, the Vesuvius area population may decides for an alternative strategy for the purpose of safeguarding its future generations and culture. Even if a selective evacuation is accepted by the population it is first necessary to make a detailed study of the reliability of its various subsystems with the methods and results made freely available for scrutiny by the scientists and citizens of the territory. The vesuvius Evacuation Plan blatantly assumes that the scientific community (the scientists-architects of the Plan) will be able to predict the eruption 20 days in advance when our experience with similar volcanoes elsewhere teaches us the contrary. It is regretful that the Plan ignored the fundamental right of the people around the volcano to decide on their destiny and that its architects lack the necessary technical skills reqired to design reliable systems.

The Emergency Evacuation Plan for the Vesuvius Area was politicized in 1995 (to counteract the interdisciplinary VESUVIUS 2000 feasibility study) by its proponents (volcanologists from Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Osservatorio Vesuviano, Protezione Civile). They have refused to respond to the charges that the Plan is unreliable from scientific, engineering, social, cultural, economic, and social points of view. These charges were also made at the international volcanological meetings in Rome (September 1995) and Mexico (January, 1997) where its proponents were unwilling or unable to defend the charges.

The individuals who undersigned The Emergency Evacuation Plan for the Vesuvius Area are (Italian Civil Protection document No. 247, February 1, 1996): F. Barberi, L. Civetta, P. Gasparini, F. Innocenti, L. Lirer, G. Orsi, T. Paresci, M. Rosi, R. Santacroce and L. Villari.

[1] Pianificazione Nazionale d’Emergenza dell’Area Vesuviana. Dipartimento della Protezione civile, 1995 Roma ( Plan 1995 )

Review of 25 September 1995.

Update of 2013

Revisions of the Plan are available on the website of Protezione Civile [2].

1. The new red area has been extended to 24 municipalities and three suburbs of Naples to account for a recent study involving the distribution of pyroclastic flows around the volcano. The extended municipalities and suburbs are: Barra, Ponticelli, San Giovanni a Teduccio, Palma Campania, Poggiomarino, San Gennaro Vesuviano, Scafati and Pomigliano d’Arco.

2. Seventy two (72) hours instead of 7 days are now judged necessary for the evacuation of the red area. The evacuation is organized into two phases: The first phase requires that the red area population be moved to the areas of first assistance beyond the red and yellow areas, whereas the second phase requires that this population be subsequently moved to the locations as assumed in the Plan of 1995. The means for evacuation have now been changed from trains to buses, while keeping the trains and ships in reserve. The old problems of the Plan remain, however, unchanged: Deportation of the population and destruction of its culture, acceptance of the deportees in different Italian localities, slow resettlement of the evacuees, appropriation of the evacuated territory by new speculators. The evacuation in 72 hours posses the following questions. (1) On the basis of which objective parameters (eruption precursors) will the decision be based to evacuate (see the following)? (2) How to manage the traffic of a mass exodus when most of the territory may be subjected to continuous seismic activity which will produce the collapses of buildings onto the streets and bridges on principal evacuation routes such as highway A3? It is enough to think what happens in the Vesuvius area when it rains to have an idea what will happen during a mass exodus. It is very difficult to justify an evacuation of 600,000 people in two or three days in a state of anger and panic and across a territory that contains another million people when this territory shakes, deforms, and is made difficult to travel to look for family members and friends.

3. The alert levels of the revised Plan have not been improved, because even today the passage from one level to the next corresponds to a progressive increase of probability for the eruptive reactivation of the volcano. The passage from the base level to the attention level requires that two monitored parameters exceed the normal values of registered parameters by at least two times the uncertainties values of these data. For the alert levels the evaluation by the experts must be based on the temporal analysis of monitored parameters. According to Protezione Civile, the definition of specific levels of eruption precursors leading to the evacuation is a delicate and complex operation. The crucial questions that have not been answered in the 1995 Plan thus remain: Who will make the decision to evacatuate and on the basis of which precursors? What could be the consequences of such orders, such as a false alarm that could drain the national treasury or a tardive alarm that may produce a catastrophe?

4. Protezione Civile is clear when it states that the participation of local municipalities in the planning is essential: The plan can become a real operational instrument only when the criteria and general strategies find application in specific local plans of the municipalities. The National Emergency Evacuation Plan for the Vesuvius area is thus only a guideline for the Vesuvians because only they will be responsible for their future. Until this is recognized by the population under the volcano there will be no a civil progress that leads to the reduction of risk on the territory. This was already stressed 18 years ago in the last paragraph of the review of the Plan of 1995.

[2] Aggiornamento del Piano Nazionale di Emergenza per il Vesuvio. Dipartimento della Protezione Civile, Roma ( Plan 2013 )
( Internet web page of Protezione Cicile of 6 December 2013 ) The document edited by Osservatorio Vesuviano Scenari Eruttivi e Livelli di Allerta per il Vesuvio (Eruption scenarios and alert levels for Vesuvius) contains contributions from G. Macedonio, A. Neri, M. Martini, W. Marzocchi, P. Papale, M.T. Pareschi, R. Santacroce, P. Dellino, G. Orsi, E. Del Pezzo, A. Zolo, and G. Zuccaro. The members of Group A of Commissione Nazionale incaricata di provvedere all'aggiornamento dei Piani d'Emergenza dell'area vesuviana e dell'area flegrea (National commission responsible for the updates of emergency plans for Vesuvius and Phlegrean Fields) are: Franco Barberi, Lucia Civetta, Paolo Gasparini and Giuseppe Luongo.

Review of 6 December 2013.

  • The National Emergency Evacuation Plan for the Vesuvius area is only a guide for the Vesuvians because only they will be responsible for following a strategy of emergency to safeguard their future.

  • The VESUVIUS 2000 initiative aims, however, at the prevention and requires an active partecipation of the population to define a pathway towards the sustainability of Vesuvius area communities. VESUVIUS 2000

  • Until the difference between a plan that should only manage an emergency and a strategy that should manage the risk based on the prevention is recognized and the best strategy adopted in the interests of the population around the volcano, there will be no civil progress that will lead to a significant reduction of risk and sustainability of the territory.

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