Apr 17 2011

Safest Place During an Earthquake? Not Where You Think!

Editor’s Note: Remember that stuff  about hiding under a table or standing in a doorway?  This interesting article from the Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of  the American Rescue Team International turns what you’ve always been told on its head.  On this anniversary of the April 17 earthquake, 1906, find out the best place for you and your kids to be the next time the Bay Area shakes.


My  name is Doug Copp. I am the Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of  the American Rescue Team International (ARTI ), the world’s most  experienced rescue team. The information in this article will save  lives in an earthquake.

I  have crawled inside 875 collapsed buildings, worked with rescue  teams from 60 countries, founded rescue teams in several  countries, and I am a member of many rescue teams from many  countries. I was the United Nations expert in Disaster Mitigation  for two years, and have worked at every major disaster in the  world since 1985, except for simultaneous  disasters.

The first building I ever crawled inside of was a school in Mexico City  during the 1985 earthquake. Every child was under its desk. Every  child was crushed to the thickness of their bones. They could have  survived by lying down next to their desks in the aisles. It was  obscene — unnecessary.

Simply stated,  when buildings collapse, the weight of the ceilings falling upon  the objects or furniture inside crushes these objects, leaving a  space or void next to them – NOT under them. This space is what I  call the ‘triangle of life’. The larger the object, the stronger,  the less it will compact. The less the object compacts, the larger  the void, the greater the probability that the person who is using  this void for safety will not be injured. The next time you watch  collapsed buildings, on television, count the ‘triangles’ you see  formed. They are everywhere. It is the most common shape, you will  see, in a collapsed building.


1)  DON’T DUCK & COVER:  Most everyone who simply ‘ducks and covers’ when building collapse  are crushed to death. People who get under objects, like desks or  cars, are crushed.

2)  FETAL POSITION: Cats, dogs and babies often naturally curl up in the fetal  position. You should too in an earthquake. It is a natural  safety/survival instinct. You can survive in a smaller void. Get  next to an object, next to a sofa, next to a bed, next to a large  bulky object that will compress slightly but leave a void next to  it.

3)  WOOD IS GOOD: Wooden buildings are the safest type of construction to be in  during an earthquake. Wood is flexible and moves with the force of  the earthquake. If the wooden building does collapse, large  survival voids are created. Also, the wooden building has less  concentrated, crushing weight. Brick buildings will break into  individual bricks. Bricks will cause many injuries but less  squashed bodies than concrete slabs.

4)  NEXT TO A BED: If you are  in bed during the night and an earthquake occurs, simply roll off  the bed. A safe void will exist around the bed. Hotels can achieve  a much greater survival rate in earthquakes, simply by posting a  sign on the back of the door of every room telling occupants to  lie down on the floor, next to the bottom of the bed during an  earthquake.

5)  NEXT TO LARGE CHAIR OR SOFA: If an earthquake happens and you cannot easily escape by getting  out the door or window, then lie down and curl up in the fetal  position next to a sofa, or large chair.

6) NOT THE DOORWAY: Most  everyone who gets under a doorway when buildings collapse is  killed. How? If you stand under a doorway and the doorjamb falls  forward or backward you will be crushed by the ceiling above. If  the door jam falls sideways you will be cut in half by the  doorway. In either case, you will be killed!

7) NEVER GO TO THE STAIRS: The stairs have a different ‘moment of frequency’  (they swing separately from the main part of the building). The  stairs and remainder of the building continuously bump into each  other until structural failure of the stairs takes place. The  people who get on stairs before they fail are chopped up by the  stair treads – horribly mutilated. Even if the building doesn’t  collapse, stay away from the stairs. The stairs are a likely part  of the building to be damaged. Even if the stairs are not  collapsed by the earthquake, they may collapse later when  overloaded by fleeing people. They should always be checked for  safety, even when the rest of the building is not  damaged.

8)  GO TOWARD OUTER WALLS: Get near the outer walls of buildings or outside of them if  possible – It is much better to be near the outside of the  building rather than the interior. The farther inside you are from  the outside perimeter of the building the greater the probability  that your escape route will be blocked.

9)  GET OUT OF YOUR CAR: People  inside of their vehicles are crushed when the road above falls in  an earthquake and crushes their vehicles; which is exactly what  happened with the slabs between the decks of the Nimitz Freeway.  The victims of the San Francisco earthquake all stayed inside of  their vehicles. They were all killed. They could have easily  survived by getting out and sitting or lying next to their  vehicles. Everyone killed would have survived if they had been  able to get out of their cars and sit or lie next to them. All the  crushed cars had voids 3 feet high next to them, except for the  cars that had columns fall directly across  them.

10)  OFFICE PAPER: I  discovered, while crawling inside of collapsed newspaper offices  and other offices with a lot of paper, that paper does not  compact. Large voids are found surrounding stacks of  paper.

In 1996 we made a  film, which proved my survival methodology to be correct. The  Turkish Federal Government, City of Istanbul , University of  Istanbul Case Productions and ARTI cooperated to film this  practical, scientific test. We collapsed a school and a home with  20 mannequins inside. Ten mannequins did ‘duck and cover,’ and ten  mannequins I used in my ‘triangle of life’ survival method. After  the simulated earthquake collapse we crawled through the rubble  and entered the building to film and document the results. The  film, in which I practiced my survival techniques under directly  observable, scientific conditions , relevant to building collapse,  showed there would have been zero percent survival for those doing  duck and cover.  There would  likely have been 100 percent survivability for people using my  method of the ‘triangle of life.’ This film has been seen by  millions of viewers on television in Turkey and the rest of  Europe, and it was seen in the USA , Canada and Latin America on  the TV program Real TV.


Alternative Views from a Reader: Red Cross statement at http://www.bpaonline.org/Emergencyprep/arc-on-doug-copp.html, Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_of_Life, and Snopes comment  http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/triangle.asp,

7 Responses to “Safest Place During an Earthquake? Not Where You Think!”

  1. Thanks for this information. You are providing a valuable service. God bless.

  2. Thanks for the above comments/help, very useful

  3. Found this article very interesting. Sure changes the idea of the drop, cover and hold theory.

  4. Thank you so much for the information. They are still teaching duck and cover in schools. I will be teaching my little one otherwise.

  5. I would read the “Alternative views from a reader” section and any reputable sources you can find on the matter. This “Triangle of life” method appears to be controversial and many groups reject it.

    For example, the Earthquake Country Alliance denounces the triangle method by name here:

    Another helpful site:

  6. Thank you very much, we just had a earthquake about an hour ago here in California and it was bigger then usual. I have never really known what we should do in case of an earthquake. Always been taught to get under something heavy…table, desk, ect.. I clinched to the sofa I was sitting on and praying for the earthquake to stop, I was kinda frozen with fear. After it was done and my daughter came out of her room crying. I realized I had no idea what to do in an earthquake and finally looked online to see what to actually do. It all makes sense. It’s funny because sites like ready.gov and red cross and others that you would think would tell you the right info, tell quite the opposite. So thank you so much and I can now tell my children and others the correct safety precautions to take during an earthquake. Makes sense now that I think of it to listen to someone that their job is rescuing people from things like this. God bless you

  7. Snopes.com addressed this a number of years ago. Please read this before adopting this advice wholesale:

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