Not long ago my wife started asking me about earthquakes, what we should do, how to survive one, and so on, I assume because we’re now living in “earthquake country” in the Pacific Northwest.
I was a bit surprised because normally she’s not that interested in prepping but always goes along with my “crazy” plans. So, I started to tell her what I knew from my childhood–I grew up in California–as well as some of my experiences.
Fortunately, we never had to survive anything where the walls were crumbling down upon us but we did have a few that shook stuff off the walls and made walking a real challenge. As a kid it was more exciting than scary.
In fact, I remember the San Francisco Bay Area (Loma Prieta) earthquake that happened to interrupt the 1989 World Series between my favorite team, the Oakland Athletics, and their cross-town rivals, the San Francisco Giants. That was also the first time I really paid attention to the devastation caused by an earthquake because of the double-decker bridge that collapsed and trapped people for weeks.
Personally, I’d much rather continue to dodge tornadoes in the Midwest because at least I feel like I can see them coming… earthquakes, not so much. 😉
If you’re unaware, the recommendation from both FEMA and the Red Cross (I believe) for earthquake safety is to “Duck, Cover, and Hold.” Specifically, get down to the floor ASAP, find something sturdy to cower–I meant take cover–under, and hold on for dear life.
The critical part is to get as low as possible and UNDER something sturdy to protect yourself, particularly your head, from falling or shifting objects, furniture, stuff coming off of walls, etc.
The “Triangle of Life” Alternative
FEMA’s strategy is in opposition to the “triangle of life” popularized by Doug Copp. Mr. Copp purports that you’re far more likely to survive a major structural collapse using his method than the traditional duck and cover method.
His “triangle of life” method states that instead of hiding underneath a sturdy object you should hide next to and between solid objects with the idea being that the area next to or between such objects creates a natural void where you can survive.
You can read more about the “triangle of lie” method here if you like as well as the arguments against it.
The Main Argument Against the “Triangle of Life”
Suffice it to say, the major argument is that in countries such as the United States where modern building techniques and standards are used a person is far more likely to die as a result of being hit by a falling (or moving) object rather than an entire building collapse. In countries where such standards aren’t employed a person if more likely to be crushed by the weight of the structure.
With me so far? Good.
The question boils down to where you expect to be safest: underneath something sturdy or next to something sturdy?
Why the Question Doesn’t Actually Matter
I say the entire question is moot for one reason that most people may not have thought of: what’s the likelihood that you’ll be nearby that “something sturdy” during an earthquake? More importantly, how many sturdy objects do you actually have in your home?
For example, I’m sitting in my living room writing this post. My butt is planted on a couch that I can’t get under. My legs are propped on a coffee table that may offer a little protection and, to be honest, I doubt it’s that sturdy. I’m starring at a television that’s perched upon a glass entertainment center… that’s certainly not safe to try and hide under!
The bedroom may actually be worse. There’s a bed that I couldn’t fit under, two end tables that offer no protection, a funny piece of furniture my wife likes to display photos on that you can’t get under anyway,, and two fairly crappy bookshelves that will offer no protection.
Our kitchen is of no help as there’s an island that I can’t fit under or even inside. Perhaps the only saving grace is our dining room table as it’s likely the MOST sturdy object in the house. The other bedrooms have similar dilemmas.
See my point? There’s isn’t really ANYTHING to take cover under!
The Trends Don’t Help… and Neither Do Your Assumptions
Maybe your furniture is much different than mine but with the ever-growing trend to make everything cheaper, lighter, and disposable… even furniture isn’t going to offer much protection, in my opinion. Perhaps fifty years ago when stuff was still made to be quality and expected to last a lifetime, but not any longer.
Now, you might be thinking, so what if most of my furniture is crap, I always have that [fill in the blank] I can go hide under. Good luck with that. For anybody that’s experienced even a relatively significant earthquake you can attest that it’s nearly impossible to keep one’s balance and walk anywhere; most people are lucky to stay standing as it is… I can only imagine being at the epicenter of a truly big one.
Beyond that, by the time you realize that an earthquake is upon you–and assuming it’s the “big one”–I’d imagine that you’d consider yourself fortunate to set down your beverage of choice, toss the bag of Doritos to the side, and do a bellyflop between the couch and coffee table… oh, wait… that’s me. 🙂
What say you? This is an interesting subject and one that I have’t had to ponder in about 20 years. Your thoughts are welcome.