Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to survive during earthquakes: Doug Copp's "TRIANGLE OF LIFE" with links to comments/advice from the Amer Red Cross, Snopes, the UWI Seismic Unit

This post ends with ten recommendations for earthquake safety from a man named Doug Copp, who is the Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of American Rescue Team International. (The American Red Cross points out that this is "a private company not affiliated with the U.S. Government or other agency".) Copp's recommendations came to me from a friend in Fort Lauderdale who had been sent them by a classmate of ours who lives and works in Bel Air, near Port au Prince, Haiti.

Go to for the 'American Red Cross response to "Triangle of Life" by Doug Copp.' The ARC takes issue with some of Doug Copp's recommendations (nos 1, 4, 6 and 8 below, as far as I can gather) and defends its "Drop, Cover and Hold On" advice as being appropriate for structures built according to US codes and specifications.

The American Red Cross article (I recommend that readers look at it themselves) ends like this: 'The American Red Cross, being a US-based organization, does not extend its recommendations to apply in other countries. What works here [i.e., in the US] may not work elsewhere, so there is no dispute that the "void identification method" or the "Triangle of Life" may indeed be the best thing to teach in other countries where the risk of building collapse, even in moderate earthquakes, is great.

Readers should also check Snopes

which publishes Copp's article in its entirety as well as reservations about his advice. (Many of these are quarrels with Copp's professional behaviour.)

Caribbean readers may wish to consult advice from the UWI seismic unit at

Interestingly enough, The American Red Cross and Doug Copp agree that standing in doorways is NOT RECOMMENDED. The UWI Seismic Unit continues to give that advice.

Here are Doug Copp's recommendations. I pass them on for your consideration, (a) aware that (1) is obviously an exaggeration – his syntax is dicey as well – and (b) with my own warning that jumping from windows, balconies and openings that are high off the ground can result in injury and death.


1) Most everyone who simply "ducks and covers" WHEN BUILDINGS COLLAPSE are crushed to death. People who get under objects, like desks or cars, are crushed.

2) 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 large bulky object that will compress slightly but leave a void next to it.

3) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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.

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