What would be the appropriate penalty for failing to issue a safety advisory of a seismically active area in the weeks and months before a deadly earthquake?
For seven Italian earthquake experts, it was manslaughter convictions and a six-year prison sentence, which is being appealed.
Ordered in the wake of a 6.3-magnitude L'Aquila earthquake in 2009, which claimed the lives of more than 300 people and decimated historic architecture in the city's centre, the sentence appears to be about more than preparedness.
Perhaps it underscores the growing awareness, accompanied by emerging unease, around earthquake risk. And not just in Italy.
Consider the ShakeOut drills on October 18, held worldwide in favourite earthquake haunts, including California, Washington state, Japan, New Zealand and Canada's own British Columbia. The B.C. drill - deployed at schools, businesses, police stations and other locations - attracted 600,000 residents.
As if on cue, less than two weeks later, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck off B.C.'s north-central coast, shaking regions as far away as Edmonton and the Yukon, and triggering a tsunami warning.
The tsunami failed to materialize and the shaking, although having a far reach, did not produce any significant damage. Not so for concern.
Just days before the B.C. quake, it was made formal that the provincial government and the Canadian Red Cross had teamed up to ensure better and faster response in times of major or catastrophic disasters. The objective is joint planning and training in case of a major disaster, such as an earthquake.
However, B.C. should not be alone in considering the potential impact of an earthquake. In mid-October, a 4.0-magnitude earthquake west of Portland, Maine was lightly felt as far away as Sherbrooke, Quebec; and a 4.5-magnitude earthquake near St. Hyacinthe was felt in both the Montreal and Ottawa areas.
Damage was not significant in any of the three quakes. Given that the B.C. earthquake "occurred in a sparsely populated stretch of the Canadian coast, significant insured losses are not expected," AIR Worldwide reported at the time.
However, the potential for insurable losses looms. IBC has commissioned a study of economic and insured loss potential from a major earthquake in B.C.
There is a 5% to 15% chance of a major quake in the Ottawa/Montreal/Quebec City region within the next 50 years, and a 30% chance of the same in B.C., Don Forgeron, president and CEO of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, recently said, citing numbers from Natural Resources Canada. "Beyond the risk to human life, an earthquake in Canada presents the most significant risk to the insurance industry and possibly to the Canadian economy," Forgeron noted in his speech at this year's National Insurance Conference of Canada in Quebec City.
The possibilities appear to be sufficiently of concern that the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions has proposed changes to how property and casualty insurers measure and manage earthquake exposure. Guideline
B-9, Earthquake Exposure Sound Practices, will "emphasize and strengthen the principles-based approach to managing earthquake exposure" and an updated capital formula will be included in the Minimum Capital Test (MCT) Guideline.
"Best practices developed in the last 15 years in the use of earthquake models and in mitigating the risks associated with using models, need to be reflected in the guideline," OSFI reports.
The federal solvency regulator has advised p&c insurers to be prepared to start looking at their earthquake risk exposures on a national basis. The new approach would be phased in over 10 years so that companies will have time to adjust how they calculate their probable maximum losses arising from an earthquake event.
For companies with similar exposures to earthquake zones in both B.C. and Quebec, the required solvency resources are likely to increase by less than 40%.
It is thought that being prepared will help, as will knowing what to do and how to minimize injury when (not if) an earthquake occurs.
"No country can fully insulate itself from disaster risk, but every country can reduce its vulnerability," Jim Yong Kim, president of The World Bank, said during recent meetings in Japan. "Better planning can help reduce damage, and loss of life, from disasters, and prevention can be far less costly than disaster relief and response," Kim said.
Economic losses caused by natural hazards have more than tripled over the last three decades and amount to $3.5 trillion.