An earthquake survival debate


I recently got a forwarded email with a pasted article called "Triangle of Life" about earthquake survival strategies. Apparently it's been circulating extensively, enough for a reaction from the American Red Cross (below).

To sum up, "Triangle of Life" says that "duck and cover" is wrong, because when buildings collapse, objects (desks, beds, etc) compress and crush people hiding underneath. The solution, according to the article, is to lie on the floor next to objects, which tend to support even heavy concrete ceilings after partial compression leaving enough space to live. The article is by Doug Copp, a rescue worker with a private US firm. To see more about him and this strategy, check

I haven't had time to vet this completely, and a quick search showed a lot of people on the Internet wondering who the author Doug Copp is. I even found a page attributed to the American Red Cross discrediting his strategy in the US: The key thing there is that they say buildings in the US tend to be differently constructed from those in Turkey or Mexico (I'm guessing Taiwan is probably somewhere between those places and the US). In America, they say, buildings don't tend to pancake as masonry structures do. And in those cases, they admit Copp's strategy may be somewhat valid.


So the duck and cover technique that I learned as a kid in school to protect myself from a nuclear blast is no good either? I thought those school desks had some special protection impressed in the wood. Surely they can withstand the thermal pulse, neutrons, x- and gamma-rays, radiation and the electromagnetic pulse.
The Health Physics Society has utterly useful advice on how to withstand a nuclear blast: "The best way to survive a nuclear blast is to be somewhere else." Gee, thanks.
An earthquake is not nearly as powerful as a nuclear blast, so it follows that the duck and cover method would be actually too safe for a mere temblor. I vote for the duck and cover, as long as it is under an approved school desk.


In Japan they always say: stand in a doorway or under a strong table. If it is a big one I think you pray and hope for the best. The taller the building the more dangerous is the furniture - especially pianos and filing cabinets in offices. I just don't want to think about it.


Tokyo is overdue.
There are so many schools of thought on the survival techniques to use during earthquakes. Standing under a door helps, and knowing where the joins in your house are is also useful as the corners produce strongpoints.
But as someone stated, I think it was batboy, it depends on the structure of the building you are in.

Statiscally, people hiding under things have a proven higher chance of survival but I wouldn't want to put it to the test.
Running into an open space is the ideal option, if you can find an open space in Taiwan.


I have been told that it is a good idea to sit next to your fridge during an earthquake and then when the roof falls in just pray that the fridge is nice and strong and can protect you. When you are waiting for the rescue teams to come and find you, you can just help yourself to drinks and snacks from your fridge. Erick


Just checked my fridge. How long do you think I could survive on a tub of kimchi, some mouldering coriander leaves and half a jar of moisturising cream?


Taiwanese students are taught in school to heave their book bags over their heads and run out of the building.


None of these methods are going to do diddly squat if the high-rise you live in tips over.

Does he have any suggestions for this scenario? Put a mattress on the wall? A really extreme BASE jump?

For those of you not present during 9/21, many of the high-rises that fell were shaken off their foundations, keeled over and hit the ground virtually intact. Very few structures collapsed upon themselves, so maybe a rethink is needed for our unique earthquake environment.

How does one protect onseself if the building he/she lives in tips over?


I like the fridge theory....

"Don't worry, we'll dig you out in about 10 minutes."
"F**k off, I still have 4 cans of beer left......"

......shown repeatedly on TVBS, interspersed with the Elton John arrival, for about 5 days solid. :rainbow:


WTF is a temblor? I've wondered this for a long time. It isn't in any dictionary I've checked. I've only seen it in Taiwan and HK newspapers. I've never once seen it in a "real" English newspaper. Is this a real word that real native speakers of English from somewhere actually use, or is it some silly creation of the locals? What is wrong with tremor? What is the etymology of this silly "temblor?" Do any of you actually use this word (if it is in fact a word)?


I think it's supposed to be trembler. I've heard both trembler and tremor used. Just depends on the person.

If your building collapses or tips over, you're pretty much SOL. The whole concept behind duck and cover was to give you a better survival rate from the flying or falling objects due to small or medium earthquakes. Large earthquakes well you're pretty much screwed anywhere you are unless you get lucky, which is usually under something strong.

California actually had a slight modification to their duck and cover teachings. It changed to duck,cover, and hold. Still the same thing, duck and hide under a desk, but they also added to hold onto the desk. Afterall, during an earthquake things move around. If you don't hold onto the desk, it may move away from you thereby negating duck and cover.

One thing that's been neglected is flying glass. During an earthquake, glass windows will flex in an out. During a strong enough earthquake (sorry don't know what magnitude), the glass with shatter and become flying knives. So I'm not a big fan of running outside with my bookbags over my head esp. if all I get for my trouble is being sliced from glass windows. :snooty:

Anyways, that's why I have a strong table at my place. And it happens to be near the fridge. :howyoudoin:


Oooh, one of my favourite scenes from "Earthquake": ham actors with spears of glass in their heads/bodies staggering about going "urgh", Charlton Heston, nearby, looks on but is strangely unharmed!

Seriously, glass is a real problem: framed things crash to the ground and cover the ground with glass (remeber shoeless Bruce Willis in "Die Hard 1") & all you kitchen stuff leaps out of the cupboards to smash on the floor.

People here don't seem to worry about fixing bookcases etc. to walls etc. I'm assuming that ignorance is bliss.


Yep. That's what we were taught in Wellington too. Have you seen pictures of the 1930s Napier earthquake? It's just a lot of rubble and doorways standing.

Students running outside is incredibly foolish. I know that's what they teach here, but it's stupid. You'de be way too late getting out, and as Grayson said, windows shatter (and Iknow in NZ they are designed to shatter outwards). That explains putting your bookbags on your head, but the best bet for students is to get under the desks. The OP suggested that next to the desks might be safer, but I think the primary danger in most earthquakes is not being crushed by everything form above, but being hit by falling objects. If you survive the intitial shock, then it migth be a good idea to get out of the building (not to the school courtyard though, but a park or something) in case thebuilding comes down in an aftershock.




Arise, ye thread from the dead!

During the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, my mum's television became a projectile, and her fridge toppled over. Wouldn't want to be under that. That was a 6.7 . Oh, yeah, and every single fireplace in the city of Los Angeles came down into a pile of rubble in livingrooms, leaving gaping holes in many a roof (ruf). Piles of brick were still in front of thousands of houses two years after the earthquake. Contractors from Canada were going down to work there was so much to repair and rebuild , and such a shortage of workers (or rather an abundance of work).

I'm still one for doorways (don't put your fingers in the jam) and corners, especially steel girders in big buildings. I try to assess the best position to avoid windows as well. That is assuming one would be able to actually walk. Most people who have been through really big earthquakes tell me it was all they could do to hold onto where they were. Walking was not an option. I guess move fast when it first starts... which I don't do. I count, and when it gets past 30, I open my eyes and consider getting up (cause they always seem to be at night). The concern creeps in if there are still tremors at 60. The concern starts much, much earlier if I can hear rock grinding.


Nope, it's temblor, and its a stupid word. used by stupid people. probably to make them sound cool, which is quite ridiculous, really.

Of course, if you speak Spanish, then it's a good word, and the right word.



Semantics, aside, that is a lot more @# serious than a fridge falling. :frowning:


I remember the survival strategy explained by the Reagan Administration: dig a hole in the ground, get inside, cover the hole with a door, and heap 3 feet of soil on top of the door. Of course, they didn't explain how you're supposed to heap soil onto the door when you're hiding under it.

But at least we could rest assured that our mail would be delivered in the event of nuclear apocalypse.

Ah, the Reagan years. Crazy days indeed.



All I know is I'm not getting under a desk. Check out this video (in case you haven't seen it before). Everyone left the building except one guy that hid under a desk. A comment on the video said he didn't survive, I have no idea if that's true or not.


Nice post, this is good information to understand what may happen to your high rise. I was assuming more of a demolition style 9-11 twin trade towers type of collapse instead of buildings falling over intact.

In this case, being outside near large buildings is probably the worst place. You would be on the very bottom of the rubble if one of them happens to topple in your direction.

So how about a reinforced door frame with built in seat belt/shoulder harness and beer holder?