Inadequate seismic design codes can be dangerous, particularly when they underestimate the true hazard. In this study we use data from a sequence of moderate-sized earthquakes in northeast Italy to validate and test a regional wave propagation model which, in turn, is used to understand some weaknesses of the current design spectra. Our velocity model, while regionalized and somewhatad hoc, is consistent with geophysical observations and the local geology. In the 0.02–0.1 Hz band, this model is validated by using it to calculate moment tensor solutions of 20 earthquakes (5.6 ≥ MW ≥ 3.2) in the 2012 Ferrara, Italy, seismic sequence. The seismic spectra observed for the relatively small main shock significantly exceeded the design spectra to be used in the area for critical structures. Observations and synthetics reveal that the ground motions are dominated by long-duration surface waves, which, apparently, the design codes do not adequately anticipate. In light of our results, the present seismic hazard assessment in the entire Pianura Padana, including the city of Milan, needs to be re-evaluated.