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Re: Surviving Structural Collapse

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A message from Rocky Lopes with the Red Cross:

Recently it has been brought to my attention the an email from Doug Copp,
titled "Triangle of Life," is making its rounds again on the Internet.  This
message, below, originally distributed on July 14, 2000, remains the same.
Its content has been reviewed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Federal
Emergency Management Agency for concurrence.

"Drop, Cover, and Hold On" is CORRECT, accurate, and APPROPRIATE for use in
the United States for Earthquake safety.  Mr. Copp's assertions in his
message that everyone is always crushed if they get under something is

July 14, 2000  (with updated on August 25, 2004)

Recently, the American Red Cross became aware of a challenge to the
earthquake safety advice "Drop, Cover, and Hold On."  This is according to
information from Mr. Doug Copp, the Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of
American Rescue Team International (a private company not affiliated with
the U.S. Government or other agency.)  He says that going underneath objects
during an earthquake [as in children being told to get under their desks at
school] is very dangerous, and fatal should the building collapse in a
strong earthquake.  He also states that "everyone who gets under a doorway
when a building collapses is killed."  He further states that "if you are in
bed when an earthquake happens, to roll out of bed next to it," and he also
says that "If an earthquake happens while you are watching television 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."

These recommendations are inaccurate for application in the United States
and inconsistent with information developed through earthquake research.
Mr. Copp based his statements on observations of damage to buildings after
an earthquake in Turkey.  It is like "apples and oranges" to compare
building construction standards, techniques, engineering principles, and
construction materials between Turkey and the United States.

We at the American Red Cross have studied the research on the topic of
earthquake safety for many years.  We have benefited from extensive research
done by the California Office of Emergency Services, California Seismic
Safety Commission, professional and academic research organizations, and
emergency management agencies, who have also studied the recommendation to
"drop, cover, and hold on!" during the shaking of an earthquake.
Personally, I have also benefited from those who preceded me in doing
earthquake education in California since the Field Act was passed in 1933.

What the claims made by Mr. Copp of ARTI, Inc., does not seem to distinguish
is that the recommendation to "drop, cover, and hold on!" is a U.S.-based
recommendation based on U.S. Building Codes and construction standards.
Much research in the United States has confirmed that "Drop, Cover, and Hold
On!" has saved lives in the United States.  Engineering researchers have
demonstrated that very few buildings collapse or "pancake" in the U.S. as
they might do in other countries.  Using a web site to show one picture of
one U.S. building that had a partial collapse after a major quake in an area
with thousands of buildings that did not collapse during the same quake is
inappropriate and misleading.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which
collects data on injuries and deaths from all reportable causes in the U.S.,
as well as data from three University-based studies performed after the Loma
Prieta (September, 1989) and Northridge (January, 1994) earthquakes in
California, the following data are indicated:

Loma Prieta:  63 deaths, approximately 3,700 people were injured.  Most
injuries happened as a result of the collapse of the Cypress Street section
of I-880 in Oakland.

Northridge:  57 deaths, 1,500 serious injuries.  Most injuries were from
falls caused by people trying to get out of their homes, or serious cuts and
broken bones when people ran, barefooted, over broken glass (the earthquake
happened in the early morning on a federal holiday when many people were
still in bed.)

There were millions of people in each of these earthquake-affected areas,
and of those millions, many of them reported to have "dropped, covered, and
held on" during the shaking of the earthquake.  Therefore, we contend that
"Drop, Cover, and Hold On" indeed SAVED lives, not killed people.  Because
the research continues to demonstrate that, in the U.S., "Drop, Cover, and
Hold On!" works, the American Red Cross remains behind that recommendation.
It is the simplest, reliable, and easiest method to teach people, including

The American Red Cross has not recommended to use a doorway for earthquake
protection for more than a decade.  The problem is that many doorways are
not built into the structural integrity of a building, and may not offer
protection.  Also, simply put, doorways are not suitable for more than one
person at a time.

The Red Cross, remaining consistent with the information published in
"Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard Messages," (visit states that if you are in bed
when an earthquake happens, to remain there.  Rolling out of bed may lead to
being injured by debris on the floor next to the bed.  If you have done a
good job of earthquake mitigation (that is, removing pictures or mirrors
that could fall on a bed; anchoring tall bedroom furniture to wall studs,
and the like), then you are safer to stay in bed rather than roll out of it
during the shaking of an earthquake.

Also, the Red Cross strongly advises not try to move (that is, escape)
during the shaking of an earthquake.  The more and the longer distance that
someone tries to move, the more likely they are to become injured by falling
or flying debris, or by tripping, falling, or getting cut by damaged floors,
walls, and items in the path of escape.

Identifying potential "void areas" and planning on using them for earthquake
protection is more difficult to teach, and hard to remember for people who
are not educated in earthquake engineering principles.  The Red Cross is not
saying that identifying potential voids is wrong or inappropriate.  What we
are saying is that "Drop, Cover, and Hold On!" is NOT wrong -- in the United

The American Red Cross, being a U.S.-based organization, does not extend its
recommendations to apply in other countries.  What works here 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.


Rocky Lopes, PhD
Manager, Community Disaster Education
Preparedness Department
American Red Cross National Headquarters

Fred Turner, Staff Structural Engineer, California Seismic Safety
Commission, a public policy advisory agency, Turner(--nospam--at), 1755
Creekside Oaks Dr. #100 Sacramento, CA 95833 Phone: 916-263-5506 Ext. 227 or
916-263-0582 Fax: 916-263-0594

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