Top-down reconstruction and the failure to “build back better” resilient communities after disaster: lessons from the 2009 L'Aquila Italy earthquake

Angelo Jonas Imperiale*, Frank Vanclay

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
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Purpose: We consider what happened in the initial reconstruction interventions following the 6 April 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila (Italy). Using the disaster risk reduction and resilience paradigm, we discuss the cognitive and interactional failures of top-down approaches, and we analyse the main constraints to enacting inclusive social learning and socially-sustainable transformation and building back better more resilient communities in post-disaster reconstruction. Design/methodology/approach: Our evidence comes from participant observation, action anthropology and analytic auto-ethnography conducted during the reconstruction phase following the L'Aquila earthquake. Findings were triangulated with document analysis, media analysis and retrospective interviewing conducted in 2013 and 2017. Findings: The shift from civil defence to civil protection did not bring any advance in disaster management and development practice in terms of DRR and resilience. The militaristic command-and-control approach, which is still in vogue among civil protection systems, means that local political leaders become the civil protection authorities in a disaster area. As in the L'Aquila case, this exacerbates local social and environmental risks and impacts, inhibits local communities from learning and restricts them from participating in post-disaster interventions. Originality/value: Most previous commentary on disaster recovery and reconstruction following the L'Aquila earthquake has focussed on the top-down approach carried out by the national government and the Italian Department of Civil Protection (DCP). This paper is unique in that it sheds light on how the command-and-control approach was also implemented by local authority figures and on how this undermined building back better more resilient communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-555
Number of pages15
JournalDisaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal
Issue number4
Early online date11-Apr-2020
Publication statusPublished - 10-May-2020


  • Command and control
  • Disaster management
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Earthquakes
  • Reconstruction
  • Resilience

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