Friday, October 26, 2012

Galileo, we feel your pain

This week’s verdict in Italy struck a particularly painful spot for scientists, especially geologists.  Seven seismologists who are highly respected in the geological community, were sentenced to several counts of manslaughter because they did not predict and give sufficient warning to the people of L'Aquila in 2009 that a major earthquake would hit. (1)  In this lovely historic town, over 300 people died, and apparently, the Italian public wanted someone to pay for it.

Galileo, as you all remember, was a brilliant scientist with visions beyond his time who got sentenced to life-long house arrest for bucking the mainstream thought with his crazy idea that the earth revolves around the sun.  He must be rolling over in his grave now wondering why the Italian government still doesn’t get science!

Predictions of anything are tricky.  Take the weather.  Generally, the forecasters are correct for that day but once in a while even a day’s prediction does not turn out the way we thought.  The longer ahead into the future the predictions, the less likely they are correct.  Honestly, I wonder if there really isn’t a big dial they spin, like on Wheel of Fortune, where landing on “Rain” here is like losing a turn.  At least with weather, we can look at the skies, pressure fronts and jet streams to give us a good idea, but earthquakes?  Regardless of those that swear there is “earthquake weather” or that their dog or cat acted funny days before the quake, there really are no good predictors as to when, where or how big an earthquake will hit.

Where does that leave those of us in the business of trying to get people prepared?  I’m a pretty optimistic person who tries to see preparedness as something you do as a positive thing – so bad things will have a minimal impact -- but there will always be some people who need that stab of fear to act.  Remember Chicken Little?  She ran around and got everyone worked up that the sky was falling.  Then she took 5 of her closest friends to the fox who ate them all, where, in Italy, they would have deserved it. 

Truthfully, the sky is not falling.  That is for sure, but there are many other things that are unpredictable in our lives.  But being unpredictable does not mean never.  Earthquakes WILL happen.  A major flood WILL hit Southern California.  A major fire WILL destroy large areas of the county.  When?  I don’t know.  All I am saying, friends, is just be ready for whatever.  There really is a nice feeling in knowing you are prepared.

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