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Drop, Cover and Hold On – these three actions can actually save your life and the lives of your loved ones in an earthquake. Due to the recent spate of “seismic events” aka earthquakes in the country, it’s worth revisiting this safety measure and remember why Drop, Cover and Hold On could be your best bet of surviving if you’re caught in the throes of an earthquake.

In this article, we delve into how and why you should adopt this stance.

How to Drop, Cover and Hold On

The action is actually quite simple, and it’s performed in that exact order. Wherever you are during an earthquake, indoors or outdoors, inside a house or high-rise building, you should perform these steps when the shaking starts:

1. DROP

When you feel the ground shaking wherever you may be, DROP down to your hands and knees. The purpose of this is to make yourself as small a “target” as possible for any falling or flying debris, and by dropping down you avoid getting knocked off your feet. This doesn’t suggest that you lie down on your stomach or go into the fetal position. You may have to crawl to a safer spot, so don’t compromise your mobility.

2. COVER

While on your knees, bring both arms behind your head and COVER your head and the nape of your neck. Bend down to protect your vital organs. Do this even if you manage to crawl under a desk or table. Stay put if you can’t find additional shelter to crawl towards, such as sturdy desk or table.

3. HOLD ON

If you can manage to crawl toward a desk or table, get under it and HOLD ON to one of the legs with one of your hands. Use your other hand to cover your head and neck. It’s important that you grasp one of the table’s or desk’s legs since you can never be sure if the earthquake will be intense enough to move the table or desk you’re using for shelter. Should the table or desk move, hang onto one of its legs and move with it.

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To see “Drop, Cover and Hold On” in action, watch this video:

Infographic showing how to do Drop, Cover and Hold On when earthquake strikes

The practice of Drop, Cover and Hold On can also be used by the physically impaired. The key is not to panic, and calmly perform these steps to increase your chances of surviving an earthquake
(Ready.Gov/Earthquakes).

What NOT to Do

The practice of Drop, Cover and Hold On is highly recommended by reputable institutions like the American Red Cross, the Los Angeles County Firefighters, the Department of Homeland Security, the USGS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Japanese Government, just to name a few. In all these institutions’ experiences and guidelines, these are what they espouse NOT TO DO:

1. DON’T go under a doorway

You may have heard of this advice at least 20-30 years ago, and this is outdated information. The USGS says that this is largely based on old photos of doorframes still standing in collapsed, unreinforced masonry or adobe buildings; these aren’t applicable to the way houses and buildings are constructed and their materials today. Doorframes are no more capable of withstanding earthquakes than the rest of the structure they are in and don’t offer much protection from falling debris.

Standing locked doorway in mud brick house after 7.9-intensity quake hit Nepal

In 2015, a strong 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal. It may appear that this doorway would have been a good place to get under during the quake, but notice the door is both closed and locked tight; had the door been open, it would have likely fell over and injured anyone under it. Observe that the building material appears to mud or adobe bricks, nothing like modern-day building materials which today’s doorways can’t withstand (DeccanChronicle.com/150428/nation-current-affairs/article/earthquake-slid-india-10-feet-northwards-matter-seconds-us).

Lopsided doorway after an earthquake hit San Francisco in the 1980s

Doorways aren’t safe to get under during earthquakes. That advice may have worked on homes and buildings that were smaller and made of crude materials like adobe or mud bricks. A non-load-bearing doorway like this one is no match for modern-day structure and its materials. Stay away from doorways
(DisasterSurvivalSkills.com/doorway-isnt-safe-earthquake/).

2. DON’T run outside

If you’re indoors, don’t waste time or effort to run outside where it’s “safer”. The ground will be moving in unpredictable ways, and you can easily get injured after getting knocked off your feet. You can fall, and be hurt by falling masonry, shattering glass and other hazards like falling utility wires or roof shingles. You are much safer and have higher chances of surviving if you stay under a sturdy table or desk.

3. DON’T believe the “Triangle of Life”

In recent years before social media and when email was prevalent, an email discussing and lauding the “virtues” of the so-called “Triangle of Life” was circulated. This story about the “Triangle of Life” would usually crop up after a major earthquake. These days with social media, you may notice some misinformed people regurgitating this potentially life-threatening information. The “Triangle of Life” has repeatedly been discredited. DO NOT believe this hoax and desist from spreading this erroneous information.

Here are a few of the wrong assumptions that this dangerous hoax makes, and why you shouldn’t believe them:

  • Get out of your car during an earthquake – this is wrong as it assumes there will always be a freeway or bridge right above you that can crush your car, and that you should “lie down” beside your car. Getting out of your car and lying beside it is dangerous. The car can move during the earthquake and crush you, or other drivers may not see you on the ground and hit you.
  • Get beside a table, refrigerator or other sturdy piece of furniture and get into the “fetal position” beside the object; the ceiling will fall on the sturdy object that’s higher than you and create a “void” – the “triangle of life” which will save your life – this is wrong since it assumes only the ceiling will collapse directly on the “sturdy object” you lie beside. The object itself that you lie next to, such as a refrigerator, can fall on you and injure or kill you. And in an earthquake, you can’t predict how debris will fall as the earth shakes and moves erratically.
  • Buildings “always collapse” in earthquakes – this is clearly wrong, as many buildings don’t always collapse especially in developed countries; it’s rare for buildings to collapse under its own weight and “pancake” in an earthquake.
  • Buildings collapse and crush all the furniture within – this is false; some people do in fact survive earthquakes by crawling under furniture.
  • People can predict and anticipate how their building or home might collapse, and can “predict” where there will be “survivable void spaces” a.k.a. the “triangle of life” – this is wrong and a very dangerous assumption as it’s impossible to predict a long list of factors that determine how a structure might collapse. You can’t predict the duration and intensity of the earthquake, the structural aspects and behavior of the building during the earthquake and certainly no one can predict where any “survivable void spaces” will be created during the tremor.
  • During intense earth-shaking, people can move to a desired, safer location – This is false as strong earthquakes can make movement both difficult and dangerous. If you’re standing or worse – moving during an earthquake, you will be knocked to the ground and could get hurt.

Many of these “findings” that serve as the basis for this dangerous theory were based on observations of an earthquake in Turkey, not in a country like the United States. Most if not all these theories don’t apply.

Stay on “Hold On”

After you’ve gotten under a sturdy piece of furniture like a desk or table, or have at the very least hunkered down on the ground with your hands protecting your head and nape as you’re bent over, stay in that position until you’re sure the shaking has stopped. Every earthquake has a “cycle” of foreshocks and aftershocks, and one can never be sure which part of the cycle the earthquake is at; you could be in the foreshock or a powerful aftershock could be next. Some earthquakes can ascend from lighter, “gentler” shaking then intensify abruptly. If an earthquake strikes, don’t venture out until you’re certain it’s safe to do so.

Final notes

Even if the very recent earthquakes in California seem to indicate a pattern, earthquakes are impossible to predict where and when they’ll strike. Despite all the uncertainty, you can still survive an earthquake. If and when an earthquake strikes, always remember to stay calm and Drop, Cover and Hold. Calmly crawl your way and get under the sturdiest table, desk or similar piece of furniture that’s closest to you and stay put. Research has shown that quake-related injuries and deaths are caused by people running and getting hit by flying or collapsing debris, and Drop, Cover and Hold On helped many earthquake victims survive. Should the worst happen, such as getting buried under rubble, remember never to lose hope as rescue teams will arrive at the scene to dig you out.