Remember: In earthquakes, drop, cover and hold is best bet

March 27, 2011

By Staff

NEW — 8 a.m. March 27, 2011

King County emergency planners set out to correct misinformation spreading on the Web about the best method to take cover in earthquakes.

The county Office of Emergency Management recommends the drop, cover and hold method as the safest bet.

“Unfortunately, emails have circulated recently, touting the ‘triangle of life’ technique, which incorrectly claims that people can use ‘voids’ or ‘empty spaces’ as a way to survive earthquakes,” Emergency Management Director Hillman Mitchell said in a release. “Simply put, the technique is not applicable for earthquake experiences in the United States.”

Information about the “triangle of life” started to circulation in email messages and on the Web in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake.

Experts, from medical doctors to international search and rescue teams, agree. The drop, cover and hold move is the likeliest method to reduce injury and death during earthquakes.

Planners consider alternate methods — such as standing in a doorway, running outside, and searching for a potential “triangle of life” — as dangerous and not to be recommended.

Many injuries from earthquakes result from people running around as the ground shakes. They fall down, run into furniture, step on broken glass or take hits from falling objects.

In and near older buildings especially, a much higher likelihood of broken windows, falling bricks and other dangerous debris exists.

Despite the urge to flee, experts advise people to stay put — being protected indoors under a sturdy desk or table is a better option.

Earthquakes in the United States do not typically result in total building collapse, or pancaking, due to high building construction standards.

The “triangle of life” theory also encourages people to roll out of bed onto the floor if caught asleep during earthquakes.

Again, quake experts said staying in bed can provide more protection during earthquakes than rolling onto the floor, where falling objects could pose a threat.

In short, the more people move during earthquakes, the greater the potential for injury.

Bill Steele, a seismology lab coordinator at the University of Washington, has years of experience studying how earthquakes behave.

“The emergency management community has worked for decades researching earthquake response and recovery throughout the world and gathering best practices,” he said in a release. “We know what works. In the urgency of disaster, people need to instinctively know what to do. And the right message is to drop, cover and hold.”

How the process works: drop to the floor; take cover under a sturdy table, desk or chair; and hold in place until the shaking stops.

Planners encourage residents and businesses to participate in the statewide earthquake drill April 20 at 9:45 a.m.

The county Office of Emergency Management offers information about earthquakes and other disasters to help residents prepare. Residents can also use the 3 Days, 3 Ways plan to prepare for emergencies.

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