Civil protection throughout history: from 1861 to 1991

From the Unification of Italy to the Etna eruption of 1991


Past Event
May 1861

United Italy: the first laws

Immagine da una stampa dell'epoca di Piazza del Popolo a Roma in seguito all'inondazione del 1870

In the newborn Kingdom of Italy, rescuing people affected by an emergency is not a priority task for the State: interventions are primarily assigned to the military and considered charity work. This is the case of the December 1870 flood in Rome. On this occasion, the army troops who conquered the city with the Breach of Porta Pia two months before are responsible for providing first aid.


Past Event
December 1908

The earthquake and tsunami in Messina and Reggio Calabria

I devastanti effetti del terremoto del 28 dicembre 1908 sulla città di Messina (Underwood&Underwood, numero di catalogo 10.495, di pubblico dominio su

December 28, 1908. An earthquake with a 7.2 magnitude hits eastern Sicily and southern Calabria. It is followed by a massive tsunami that sweeps over the coast of the Strait of Messina, worsening the damage caused by the earthquake and resulting in additional casualties for those who escaped the collapses. The event is one of the most devastating catastrophes ever to occur in Italy.

Past Event
January 1915

The Marsica earthquake

Gli effetti su Avezzano del terremoto della Marsica del 13 gennaio 1915 (Foto di Lansing Callan in Pubblico Dominio su Wikimedia Commons)

January 13, 1915. An earthquake of magnitude 7 hits central Italy, with its epicenter in the Fucino Plain of Abruzzo. The Marsica earthquake is one of the most violent earthquakes in Italian history due to the large area it affected, and the high number of casualties, injuries, and people left homeless.

Past Event
September 1919

The evolution of rescue legislation

September 2, 1919. Royal Decree-Law No. 1915 establishes the first regulatory framework for earthquake relief. The measure identifies the Ministry of Public Works as the authority responsible for direction and coordination.

Past Event
July 1930

The Irpinia and Vulture earthquake

I crolli causati dal terremoto del 23 luglio 1930 in un paese del Vulture, nel nord della Basilicata (Bundesarchiv, numero di catalogo 102-10192, pubblicata su con licenza CC BY-SA 3.0)

July 23, 1930. An earthquake of magnitude 6.7 hits a large area of southern Italy between upper Irpinia and the Vulture area. It causes severe and widespread damage due to the soil's characteristics and fragile residential properties.

Past Event
November 1951

The Polesine flood

L’alluvione del Polesine 11-12 novembre 1951 (Foto del Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco)

November 14, 1951. Intense rainfall affects the Po Valley and results in exceptional flooding of the Po River. The river breaks its banks between November 11 and 12, 1951 around Parma and two days later around Rovigo, flooding the Polesine area. 

Past Event
October 1963

The Vajont landslide

Frana del Vajont 9 ottobre 1963 (foto del Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco)

October 9, 1963. A massive landslide of 270 million m³ detaches from Mount Toc and plunges into the waters of the Vajont hydroelectric reservoir in the valley of the same name, located on the border between Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Veneto.

Past Event
November 1966

The flood of Florence

L’alluvione di Firenze del 4 novembre 1966 (Foto del Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco)

November 4, 1966. An exceptional wave of bad weather causes the Arno River to overflow and flood Florence. Many neighborhoods, including the historic center, are flooded. In the first few days, aid comes almost exclusively from "mud angels" and troops based in the city.

Past Event
January 1968

The Belice earthquake

I danni causati dal terremoto che nella notte tra il 14 e il 15 gennaio del 1968 colpì la Valle del Belice (Foto del Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco)

January 14, 1968. An earthquake of magnitude 6.4 devastates the Belice Valley in Sicily. Emergency management is unsuccessful due to a lack of coordination among ground forces. The rebuilding process will be long, with settlements relocated to areas far from the earthquake's impact.

Past Event
December 1970

The first law on civil protection interventions

December 8, 1970. Law No. 996 defines the concept of "civil protection" by focusing on the emergency stage, that is, rescue to be implemented in the immediacy of the event. It also assigns a central role to the Ministry of the Interior, which takes over the direction and coordination of interventions in the event of a disaster.

Past Event
May 1976

The Friuli earthquake

Squadre di soccorritori all’opera in seguito al terremoto in Friuli del 6 maggio 1976 (Foto del Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco)

May 6, 1976. An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 severely hits Friuli and, in particular, the middle valley of the Tagliamento River. In the hours following the quake, the government assigns the direction of rescue operations to extraordinary commissioner Giuseppe Zamberletti.

Past Event
November 1980

Irpinia earthquake

Squadre al lavoro dopo terremoto dell’Irpinia del 23 novembre 1980 (Foto del Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco)

In 1980 an earthquake struck a wide area of Campania, Basilicata and, marginally, Puglia. President Pertini denounced the delay in relief efforts and the serious failings of the State.

Past Event
June 1981

The tragedy of Vermicino

Le operazioni di soccorso del piccolo Alfredino Rampi a Vermicino, nelle vicinanze di Roma, il 10 giugno 1981 (Foto del Corpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco)

On June 10, 1981, the young Alfredo Rampi falls into an artesian well. The whole Italy stops to follow the very difficult rescue attempts.

Past Event
April 1982

The institution of the Department of Civil Protection

Roma, 7 maggio 1985 - Il primo Comitato Operativo della Protezione Civile, riunito in via Ulpiano e presieduto da Elveno Pastorelli

On 29 April 1982, the Department of Civil Protection was instituted. In the same year, Law n. 996 formalizes the figure of the Minister for the Coordination of Civil Protection.

Past Event
December 1991

L’eruzione dell’Etna  

Eruzione dell'Etna del 14 dicembre 1991 (Foto Stato Maggiore dell'Esercito)

Il 14 dicembre 1991, con l'apertura di una frattura eruttiva alla base del cratere di sud-est, ha inizio la più lunga eruzione dell’Etna del XX secolo: 473 giorni per oltre 300 milioni di metri cubi di lava. Il fiume lavico arriva a mettere a rischio l’abitato di Zafferana Etnea.