L’Aquila, central Italy, and the “disaster cycle”, 2009-2017

David E. Alexander (Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London, London, UK)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Publication date: 5 August 2019



The purpose of this paper is to offer a critical examination of the aftermath of the L’Aquila earthquake of 6 April 2009. It considers the elements of the recovery process that are unique or exceptional and endeavours to explain them.


The analysis is based on a survey and synthesis of the abundant literature on the disaster, coupled with observations from the author’s many visits to L’Aquila and personal involvement in the debates on the questions raised during the aftermath.


Several aspects of the disaster are unique. These include the use of large, well-appointed buildings as temporary accommodation and the efforts to use legal processes to obtain justice for alleged mismanagement of both the early emergency situation and faults in the recovery process.

Research limitations/implications

Politics, history, economics and geography have conspired to make the L’Aquila disaster and its aftermath a multi-layered event that poses considerable challenges of interpretation.

Practical implications

The L’Aquila case teaches first that moderate seismic events can entail a long and difficult process of recovery if the initial vulnerability is high. Second, for processes of recovery to be rational, they need to be safeguarded against the effects of political expediency and bureaucratic delay.

Social implications

Many survivors of the L’Aquila disaster have been hostages to fortune, victims as much of broader political and socio-economic forces than of the earthquake itself.


Although there are now many published analyses of the L’Aquila disaster, as the better part of a decade has elapsed since the event, there is value in taking stock and making a critical assessment of developments. The context of this disaster is dynamic and extraordinarily sophisticated, and it provides the key to interpretation of developments that otherwise would probably seem illogical.



Alexander, D. (2019), "L’Aquila, central Italy, and the “disaster cycle”, 2009-2017", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 28 No. 4, pp. 419-433. https://doi.org/10.1108/DPM-01-2018-0022

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