Healthy Living / Viral Falsehoods

Busting Misleading Earthquake SOPs

Knowing the right thing to do can mean the difference between life or death especially during an earthquake. In this era of overwhelming fake news about quake preparedness, we will bust two misleading quake procedures to increase your chances of survival.

  1. Head for the roof/highest floor!

There are lot of rumors why heading for the roof or the highest floor was a good choice. On online forums, some say that the roof provides easier access for escape. No need to worry for there are no tons of rubble above our heads. Also, the highest floor provides easier access up on the rubble. It makes it faster for rescuers to spot survivors for they believe search and rescue ops always start from above.

Why such a bad idea?

  1. Heading towards the roof or the highest floor of a building during a quake is a risky attempt. A quake with an intensity higher than six (6) will make it difficult for anyone to move and find balance. This means that the higher the building, the stronger the shake will be felt depending on the structure’s quake-mitigating features.
  2. Most injuries during a quake results from falling debris and being pinned by heavy objects and falling.
  3. There is also a possibility of being trapped from a fire after a quake even if you stay on the roof as electrical and gas lines may become damaged.


  1. Triangle of Life

There has been a lot of controversies surrounding this safety tip. Doug Copp, who claims to be an expert in search and rescue advocates the “triangle of life” as a safer alternative to the widely-accepted procedure of drop-cover-hold.

He stated those who drop and take cover will be crushed to death “without exception” as the object they will use for cover will be compressed by the ceiling. Seeking cover “beside a large object” (table or refrigerator) and doing a “fetal position” will prevent anyone from being crushed. The object will form a void wherein it will be safe to take cover as most buildings will collapse like a pancake.

Another is about getting near the building’s “outside walls” or “move outside of them” to prevent being trapped.

Finally, moving “outside a vehicle” and doing a “fetal position” will keep you safe from falling debris rather than being crushed inside.


In 2004, his claims were challenged and soon debunked by critics and organizations all around the world. One of his critics is Dr. Marla Petal, former research associate and manager of Disaster Preparedness Education Program of Bogaziçi University in Turkey. In her released statement, she said that Copp’s claims are “worse than an urban legend.”

Even Dr. Renato Solidum Jr., Department of Science and Technology (DOST) undersecretary for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change and PHIVOLCS director said that those procedures are “an absurd suggestion.”

Copp was later investigated on by the United States government for fraud for receiving more than $600,000 in compensation for injuries he allegedly sustained on a 9/11 rescue work (that was believed to be falsified).

Debunking the claims

  1. Seeking cover “beside a large object” will injure you. The lateral motion of an earthquake will cause unsecured large objects to move or fall making voids impossible to anticipate. In addition, the “fetal position” will cause you to roll and will hinder your movement towards a safer area.
  2. Staying “outside a vehicle” will increase the chances of serious injuries or even death due to oncoming traffic or the vehicle may topple over.
  3. Getting near the “outside walls” of a building poses a threat from debris such as glass, wall fixtures or tiles. Thus, running outside a building during a strong quake will makeyou fall and contribute to injuries such as cuts and possibly broken bones.
  4. A flat or “pancake” collapses are rare and most buildings built based on our building code can survive a strong jolt.

Brighter suggestions

  1. Drop-cover-hold is still a safer method to protect you from falling debris.
  2. The tripod position can be another alternative to keep you in balance whenever you are caught indoor or outdoor without a cover.

Following our building code is a great earthquake mitigation method. Also, see PHIVOLCS’ how safe is my house checklist whether it is time to seek professional advice to check your home’s structural integrity.

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