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6 Apr 2009

Transition Italia Ask; How Might Transition Initiatives Support the Italian Earthquake?

italyqYou will no doubt have seen in the news the dreadful scenes from the earthquake in northern Italy, which killed over 150 people, and has left nearly 50,000 homeless.  I recieved the following email from Ellen Bermann at Transition Italia which I said I would post here.

Earthquake in Italy: How can Transition initiatives possibly give support and relief in case of disaster scenarios ?

Today Italy is mourning the victims left by last night’s earthquake (6.3 magnitude tremor) which hit the mountainous Abruzzo Region. Countless buildings have been destroyed in the regional capital of l’Aquila and left over 50,000 people homeless. Now l’Aquila is one of Italy’s transition initiatives and as Italian Transition hub we feel to be in the urge to lend help, a help that could matter and be significant. We look for advice within the Transition Network in order to be able to answer the following questions:

  • How can Transition approach help in case of disaster mitigation and grant relief to people, particularly in post-disaster scenarios ?
  • Is the concept of resilience, understood as “the ability to react to difficulties and to continue to function”, appliable in case of disaster scenarios and how ?
  • What kind of help and actions, delivered by the local transition initiative (L’Aquila) would be most useful in order to help people out ?

We thank everybody in advance for all advice and suggestions given, which will possibly help the local Transition initiative to issue a call for donations in support of the local population.

Thank you very much for your support !
Ellen Bermann (ellen.bermann(at)  Transition Italia

Categories: Community Involvement

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Ben Brangwyn
7 Apr 12:57am

I imagine that the needs will be different depending on whether you’re thinking about the urgent, short term or medium term situation.

Probably the emergency services will be dealing with the urgent needs, but not perhaps thinking about the longer term “rebuilding resilience” activities.

I’ve never been at a disaster site, but I’d guess that people’s longer term needs at this point can be thought of as both physical and emotional.

On the physical front, it’ll be the usual a)shelter, b)water, c)food, d)transport – all of which may have been completely disrupted for the victims.

On the emotional side one thing to watch for is “survivor guilt syndrome” – as in “why did they die but I didn’t?”.

To what extent you might address the physical needs will be determined by what’s available locally. For instance, maybe there’s an opportunity to do some quick build shelters using local materials (straw bale comes to mind). Longer term, maybe there’s an opportunity for natural building courses so that they don’t replace the destroyed building with something horrible and high carbon.

Supplementing scarce water supply with rain harvesting seems like a priority to me.

A shopping delivery service could really help in situations where the shops have been destroyed or the transport for someone is no longer there – although I imagine in Italy everyone helps everyone else.

In the true spirit of relocalisation, I imagine the answers for this would be very different (for the physical stuff) wherever it happens, drawing on local resources within the local constraints.

Don’t know if that’s been any help – it’s not something I’ve really thought about at length before.


Margie Kepner
7 Apr 3:24am

Go to the website and click on to Emergency Shelter. This is about building shelters after just such an emergency, with soil, bags and barbwire. More stable than tents.

7 Apr 5:54am


I put the word out earlier this year about international support for the folk of Victoria in Australia who lost more than 200 people in one afternoon to a fire ‘tsunami’. Some of those towns were on the brink of becoming TTs and now want to look at that model to rebuild. David Holmgren is also involved in discussion about rebuilding in these fire prone areas.

One bloke from Kinglake turned up at the UK training here in NSW still smelling of smoke, and headed straight back into his devastated community but he was determined to be there and do the training and get on with it.

They have faced what we are all thinking about – climate changes and I think they need our support to help rebuild.


7 Apr 7:27am


Feeling tearful about this – as I have a friend over there – fortunately not in that area. Also at the thought of us being asked for help – and I hope we can do so. So – for what its worth – here’s my little “hands out across the ocean” (ie links to websites re temporary housing – includes a free e-book on building your own yurt):

(if any of those links dont work here – then go to my blog and click on the label “housing” under the list of posts on the sidebar and they are on the 2nd one down).

Take care


7 Apr 8:20am

Seeing people standing in line for food prompted another thought – a link to the website of a U.S. group which contains recipes for cooking for large numbers:

7 Apr 8:27am

Ben’s response to the emergency is about immediate needs, Sonya’s is about rebuilding and I agree with both. The role of Transition is as much about looking forward – to try to rebuild the community so that it is diverse enough to cope with the same disaster in a future without cheap energy.

Is there any way that the Transition movement can learn from disasters like the ones in l’Aquila and Australia and develop a system of emergency relief?


[…] Ci stiamo interrogando su quale dovrebbe essere il ruolo del movimento di Transizione in questi tragici frangenti. Dopo una rapida consultazione con Ellen abbiamo deciso di coinvolgere tutto il Transition Network. Così Ellen ha scritto a Rob Hopkins che ha pubblicato il suo intervento sul suo blog. […]

Ann Lamot
7 Apr 10:21am

Maybe there’s a way other Italian T Initiatives can help with communication, keeping people of the area in touch with each other. One of the effects of Katrina was that whole communities were evacuated all over the place and people just lost touch with each other.
Creating a blog/forum/website, just for the area might help people to keep their sense of community and be a vital tool in helping them to organise and have an active role in the rebuilding.
It seems that the Italian authorities are doing rather better on the immediate help level than FEMA ever did, so well worth finding out from them what they need to help the people of the area better. When these kind of disasters happen, having an efficient government response is vital, as in the end, they have the means and abilities (or should have) to respond on the scale that’s needed. Again communication (building bridges) with local government to discuss the needs and wants of the local community in regard to the rebuilding of the town will be cruxial in order to keep the disaster capitalists out.
Rather than everyone else deciding what it is that the people of l’Aquila need, maybe create Open Space events, where the people themselves can find out what it is that’s wanted (vision) and maybe something along the lines of an Energy Descent Action Plan(but rather a Community Rebuild Action Plan) could be compiled.
Hope these ideas come in helpful.

[…] Another fellow blogger added an interesting post on Transition Italia Ask; How Might Transition Initiatives Support …Here’s a small excerptNow l’Aquila is one of Italy’s transition initiatives and as Italian Transition hub we feel to be in the urge to lend help, a help that could matter and be significant. We look for advice within the Transition Network in order to be … […]

Paul Lynch
7 Apr 10:44am

I just looked at a documentary last night on earthship ( about architect Michael Reynold. It showed how he helped people after disasters in India and Mexico and how these people are so open to learn to build survive and listen to alternative ways after a disaster in comparison to battling to build sustainably within our “normal” rules and systems. It would do well to use his methods to rebuild in this disaster in Italy.

Take a look at the link!!

Cristiano Bottone
7 Apr 11:59am

Thank you for your ideas until now.

It is very useful to read your suggestions. We must say that our emergency system is very effective (we have now, unfortunately, a big experience in this kind of events).

What is really painful is to see new houses and the main hospital of the town destroyed after a not very powerful earthquake.

Linda S
7 Apr 1:45pm

Ellen, so sorry to hear about this devastating earthquake! The lives lost, people injured, and property destroyed is tremendous. Our hearts go out to all!

In May of 2007, a tornado destroyed the town of Greensberg, Kansas, USA. While not nearly on the scale of the l’Aquila quake, it was a local disaster all the same. The townsfolk decided to rebuild using newer, greener methods. You can read about their progress at:

When time does come to rebuild, new research has shown straw-bale buildings to be earthquake resistent:
And much can be learned from earthship biotecture:

All of this is, of course, off in the future. For the victims, now is about survival and grief. For the rest of us, it is a reminder that resilience involves many layers of preparedness.

Neil L
7 Apr 6:39pm


It has been interesting to read the comments as to how the Transition model may offer a different solution to this dreadful situation.

This issue came up at a recent talk I was at in relation to building momentum around Transition and the consensus in the room was that until comunities are disturbed from their ‘business as usual’ way of being then it will take a long time.

However, events such as this (which may become more and more commn place) may provide the catalyst and opportunity to do things differently.

I think this also raises the issue of what skills are required to deal with the immediate situation and also move forward from the situation – the event will undoubtedly have bought people together so trying to focus on positive, collective action to move forward and support each other through difficult times will be important – and also re-skillin gpeople in order to build resiliance and self-reliance will be a crucial part of this.


7 Apr 8:26pm

I had this bookmarked because we are thinking along these lines…

8 Apr 8:11am

Hi Paul Lynch

The documentary on Earth Ship doesnt seem to be working – I’ve had several goes – but couldnt get it to play. Dont know whether its just me? – I dont think so.

I have seen this video anyway – and think its well worth a watch – but am hoping to share it with others.

8 Apr 8:24am

Yay! Look what I found on YouTube re earthships – and its largely in Italian…

Mike Grenville
8 Apr 4:24pm

telephone communications are an important part now of emergency relief as phone lines and masts may be destroyed.

This is vital for relaying details of the situation to external support teams, communication with in the area. Another important task is to enable those who have survived to communicate to friends and relatives that they are ok or need help.

Télécoms Sans Frontières deploy emergency comms

Save the Children staff expect to establish psychosocial support programs for children as well as establish family tracing systems for children separated from their families. The agency also will provide support so that schools can reopen as soon as possible.

9 Apr 8:41am

Hi, this is Deborah from Italy – my opinion is that is is very important for the local group, and for whoever will be collaborating with them, to work towards becoming a reference point for people and institutions pre-reconstruction. TT could elaborate plans and solutions for new, green, safe buildings – enough with this carton/cement already! Maybe a transition certification could be put in place, some sort of analysis of emissions, energyuse, materials carbon footprint, and safety in case of possible future earthquakes.
anyhow, it is mighty inspiring to read so many comments that look to the future!

Credo che sia importante per il gruppo abruzzese e per tutti coloro che vorranno collaborare con loro porsi, specialmente passata l’emergenza, come centro di aggregazione e come interlocutori nei confronti dell’amministrazione locale per proporre soluzioni di ricostruzione alternative, verdi e sicure – basta con il cemento/cartone! Si potrebbe creare una certificazione “di transizione” per le nuove costruzioni, facendo un’analisi dei consumi, dei rifiuti prodotti, del carbon footprint dei materiali e della loro sicurezza in fronte a eventi sismici…. e’ interessantissimo, ad ogni modo leggere come risposta al post di Ellen sul sito UK tante proposte che guardano al futuro. Inspiring!

9 Apr 1:20pm

Thanks again to everyone. As has been already written by me and others, we are quite well equipped to manage the emergency in Italy. Rescue operations are working at full capacity and all of Italy is expressing and offering solidarity to the victims of this earthquake.

The true challenge lies ahead – reconstructing a safe and sustainable city. What happened in Greensberg (thank you Linda) is a great example. But the scale, here, is much vaster. Will we successed in turning disaster into opportunity? And how?

Please do not stop sending ideas, they are of great help to us, and of great confort to our group in L’Aquila.

Transition Italia

Tomas Remiarz
9 Apr 5:39pm

From the little i picked up from the papers it looks as though a lot of people are put up in tents at least in the short term. I am member of a collective who has experience in setting temporary infrastructure – we could make available the rough draft of the “recipe book” that we’re producing for situations like these.

Also highly recommended: Rhizome Collective handbook (availabkle via Amazon books), plntey of tips for

On the level of people organising themselves to run their affairs, the Trapese Handbook (also via Amazon or permanent Publications) might be useful.

There are a few of permaculturists who have worked in disaster relief situations – you could email for details

[…] with the earthquake which left over 50,000 people homeless. Ideas on how Transition initiatves can respond are being shared here and how to turn the disaster into […]

13 Apr 9:58am

Hi, Deborah from Italy again – I am thinking of the possibility of organizing, within the space of a year, some sort of event (conference/exhibit/meeting) presenting the options of bioarchitecture in Abruzzo (the region hit by the quake). I think it could be a way of showcasing the alternative and getting people to raise their heads above the institutional rebuilding mess which we are sadly anticipating. Opinions?

Josef Davies-Coates
15 Apr 6:30pm

Another good link:

Also, feel free to contribute stuff here:

And here:

Tomas: PLEASE do make available the rough draft of the “recipe book” that you’re producing for situations like these.

I’d LOVE to get a look at that 🙂 BTW – what is the collective called and have you got a website?

[…] situazione critica come quella del terremoto che ha colpito l’abruzzo. Il dialogo è stato esteso a livello internazionale e sono giunti da tutto il mondo idee e suggerimenti di varia natura (appena possibile traduciamo […]

[…] Italia asks how to respond to the earthquakes in L’Aquila Transition US has been very busy this past month. The New York Times Magazine and Elle Magazine […]