Introduction: On April 6th 2009 an earthquake of Mw=6.3 hit the historical downtown of L’Aquila and its hinterland causing more than 300 fatalities and severe damage to private and public buildings. At the time, the University of L’Aquila represented a major source of employment and income for the city. The earthquake impacted both the facilities and the administrative, financial and patrimonial activities of the university, bringing into the open the tendency – widespread in Italy – to rely on adaptive tactics rather than on strategic pre-disaster plans. This paper investigates the university’s emergency preparedness and response capability and the strategies adopted to restore the education activities as well as avoid students migration to other universities. In addition, emphasis is placed on the role played by Student Associations in pre and post-disaster phases, and how students perceived the activities performed by these associations.
Methods: To achieve this goal, it was undertaken: i) qualitative evaluation to assess the impact of earthquake on services and facilities of the university, the emergency preparedness and the measures adopted to face the emergency, ii) survey on the role played by Student Associations, both in emergency preparedness and response, according to students’ perception; iii) quantitative analysis to measure changes in the enrollment trend after the earthquake, and how university policies could curb students’ migration.
Results: The policies adopted by the University allowed to diminish students’ migration; however, the measures taken by the university were based on an ad hoc plan as no emergency and continuity plans were prepared in advance. Similarly Student Associations got involved more in restoration activities than in emergency preparedness and risk awareness promotion.
Discussion: Greater awareness and involvement are essential at each level (administrators, faculties, students) to plan in advance for an adverse scenario and to make important steps forward in understanding and embracing a culture of safety. The present paper is starting point for future research to deepen the emergency preparedness of Universities and the role that Student Associations may play to support and spread such a culture of safety.