Learning from risk: lessons from L’Aquila and Japan

Isabel Abreu-Santos, Lia Vasconcelos, Iva Pires

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Contemporary society faces complex, uncertain and global risks. The extensive scientific literature is not consensual about the concept of risk or the relevance of its perception by the populations, their level of preparedness or the ways they deal with risk and disaster situations. Assuming that better prepared societies face risk situations more efficiently, two case studies were submitted to research and comparison — L’Aquila earthquake and Japan’s triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear). Results point to a general inability to manage risk in unforeseen situations. Risk communication has shown to be inadequate, with major flaws, transmitting a false sense of safety. The governance model exposed the failure of the decision structures in dealing with the events, thus contributing to the creation of distrust and insecurity in the communities smitten by calamity. Past experiences have created adequate behaviours in L’Aquila, but gave rise to false assumptions in Japan, jeopardizing human lives. This paper intends to reflect and draw lessons learned in these experiences, which may serve as a baseline and as support for future guidelines.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-147
JournalPsyecology - Revista Bilingüe de Psicología Ambiental
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017



  • risk communication
  • risk governance
  • L’Aquila earthquake
  • Japan’s triple disaster

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