One of the things that we see during and after a disaster is a number of well-meaning people providing advice on how to protect yourself in future disasters. Unfortunately, a lot of this advice is based on what we term “disaster mythology” rather than factual evidence. The problem with myths is that there is sometimes enough of a kernel of truth contained within them to make them hard to lay to rest.
Case in point is the resurrection of two earthquake protection methods that have been around for years and have acquired a patina of truth even though they can actually cause harm.
Everyone knows that the best place to be safe in an earthquake is to stand in a doorway. After all, Tommy Lee Jones did just that in the movie, Volcano, a movie acclaimed for its completely accurate and factual depiction of what emergency managers do in a disaster. Right and I can get you a good price on the Golden Gate Bridge. The theory behind standing in the doorway is that the heavy frame of the door will protect you from structural collapse. The reality is that in modern construction the doorway is no stronger than the rest of your home. Moreover, the swinging door can actually hurt you by slamming into you or crushing your fingers.
The other myth that circulates following an earthquake is the so-called “triangle of life”. Proponents of this technique encourage you to lie down beside heavy objects rather than seek shelter under them. The theory is that this will create a void space or pocket that will protect your when your home collapses. The reality is that while void spaces do form when a structure collapses, we cannot predict where these voids will form. More importantly, modern building codes in the United States are such that you are much more likely to be injured by nonstructural hazards such as light fixtures, bookcases, or ceiling tiles, than by an actual structural collapse. In examining the injuries from the recent Napa earthquake, we find most were caused by unreinforced brick chimneys falling through the roof of many homes rather than the home collapsing.
There is nothing that will guarantee your safety in an earthquake. However, the well tested “drop, cover, and hold” technique offers your best chance of avoiding injury. So don’t be taken in by disaster mythology. Understand the reality and stay safe.