The Truth About the “Triangle of Life” and Why You Should Not Follow This During an Earthquake
Back in 1985, Douglas Copp, Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of the American Rescue Team International, presented an earthquake survival technique called “Triangle of Life” which challenged "Drop, Cover, and Hold On" – a long-established method recognized and supported by seismologists, governments, local emergency management experts, and first response agencies in North America. This method was conceived while Copp was watching the television coverage of an earthquake in Mexico City. He believed there were individuals that could be hiding in triangular-shaped crevices within the collapsed buildings.
According to Copp’s survival method, going underneath objects during a strong earthquake is highly dangerous and fatal in the event that the building you are in collapses. He further stated that "everyone who gets under a doorway when a building collapses is killed." Copp also suggests that "if you are in bed when an earthquake happens, to roll out of bed next to it," and 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."
“Triangle of Life” versus “Drop, Cover, and Hold On!”
In a rebuttal made by Rocky Lopes, PhD, Community Disaster Education Manager of the American Red Cross, Lopes assured that, “the recommendation to ‘Drop, Cover, and Hold On!’ is a US-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.” Lopes further asserted that based on confirmation from engineering researchers, buildings in the United States rarely collapse or "pancake" unlike what happened in Mexico City which was the basis of Copp’s “Triangle of Life”.
What is the Best Thing to Do During an Earthquake?
According to experts, the best thing to do during an earthquake is to go under a desk. This is based on infrastructural and scientific reasons. Contrary to Copp’s approach that allegedly saves people from buildings that pancake, the American Red Cross asserted that this survival method is not universal, as not all buildings in the United States pancake.
Official rescue teams, emergency managers, researchers, and school safety advocates with the United States and other countries all agree that "Drop, Cover, and Hold On!" is the appropriate action to take in order to minimize injury and death during an earthquake. Other methods such as standing in a doorway, running outside, and "Triangle of Life" are not recommended by these experts and are considered to be dangerous.
Outside the United States, several Iranian seismology researchers compared the “Drop, Cover, and Hold On!” method with the “Triangle of Life” back in 2009. Their findings confirmed that the “Drop, Cover, and Hold On!” method is still the best universal recommendation, although the “Triangle of Life” method could be better implemented in certain situations. Such situation would be in instances where people are located in wood, steel, or concrete structures, as these materials may "pancake”.