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In my childhood, I heard that the safest place indoors during an earthquake is in any doorway or in the bathroom (toilet).

Doug Copp, Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of the American Rescue Team International (ARTI), recommends (via viral videos and emails) looking for solid items that protect against ceilings pancaking ("triangles of life").

Meanwhile, FEMA recommend Drop, Cover and Hold On.

Has there been any research done into the safest place indoors during an earthquake?

  • I edited this question to provide a few competing claims, so the answers have something to get their teeth into. I'm not deliberately manufacturing controversy; I am just trying to encourage the answers to be more substantial. – Oddthinking Jun 30 '11 at 6:31
  • "Has there been any research done into the safest place indoors during an earthquake?" - I'd expect so. If you don't believe American or English-language advice I'd try to look for what's recommended in Japan, who do know a thing or two about earthquakes. Note that the answer could vary with the type/construction of the building. – ChrisW Jun 30 '11 at 12:28
  • the answer could also very well depend on the individual quake. Different earthquakes have entirely different damage profiles. Some might for example see you safe in the basement (you just have to dig your way out), while others would have you safest in the attic. – jwenting Jul 1 '11 at 6:17
  • It's worth noting that "Drop, Cover and Hold On" is recommendation for people living in buildings either built or retrofitted to be earthquake resistant. FEMA's recommendation for unreinforced brick house is "get out". – vartec May 6 '15 at 21:32
5

I don't know about research as such, but acording to 'Get Thru' (a New Zealand Civil Defence website) doorways aren't the best bet, and it's better to get underneath a sturdy piece of furniture:

SAFE PLACES IN AN EARTHQUAKE Somewhere close to you, no more than a few steps or less than three metres away, to avoid injury from flying debris.

Under a strong table. Hold on to the table legs to keep it from moving away from you.

Next to an interior wall, away from windows that can shatter and cause injury and tall furniture that can fall on you. Protect your head and neck with your arms.

Keep in mind that in modern homes, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the structure and usually have doors that can swing and injure you.

EDIT since the question has changed a little. I don't know of any research directly in this area, but every expert earthquake saftey organisation I've seen explicitly says no to doorways and yes to "drop cover and hold on" (1,2,3,4[pdf],5)

With regards to the 'triangle of life', New Zealand Cival Defence says

'Drop, cover and hold' is the official advice of the New Zealand Government developed collaboratively with expert agencies such as GNS Science, EQC and the Society of Earthquake Engineers

and cites Petal (1999) [pdf] as a source for how wrong the triangle of life is.

  • 1
    I don't think this is what the OP is looking for: out of the dozens of possible theories, which are scientifically accurate? – Sklivvz Jun 30 '11 at 6:59
  • OK, and the question has changed a little since I answered it. But for the the specific question about the doorway being safest, I would have thought following the advice of organisation that are experts at earthquake safety was a pretty reasonable and skeptical stance to take? – david w Jul 1 '11 at 0:11
  • I'm trying to consider that question too: Does 'authoritative' mean something? – ChrisW Jul 1 '11 at 3:36
  • Actually, your references point out that doors are OK as long as they are load-bearing--the NZ one being the only one saying that "modern homes", etc.--possibly because of specific NZ issues? Also, I don't understand how the last pdf supports your last statement. It does say that Copp is a crook, but then, I quote: 'Yes, Copp is correct that there are places that after a building collapse are called "triangles of life"' – Sklivvz Jul 1 '11 at 7:56
  • ...and the rest of the paragraph explains that you can't predict where they'll form and running for a wall while your house is falling down is likely to be counterproductive. I've added another ref. for the doorway (and the red cross article also already linked also supports this) – david w Jul 1 '11 at 9:53

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