Apr 20

How to: Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

The ShakeOut campaign and earthquake experts around the globe recommend that as soon as the shaking starts you should Drop to the ground, take Cover under a table or desk (or at least cover your head and neck with your arms and hands), and Hold On! to the leg of the table or desk to keep it over at least your head and neck but preferably over your entire body. Sounds simple enough, but the effectiveness is in the details…

Drop – By dropping to the ground as soon as the shaking starts (NOT waiting to see if the shaking gets worse) you reduce the likelihood of serious injury or even death that can result from trying to stand, walk or run during ground shaking. Immediately drop to your knees in the fetal position and put your hands and arms over the back of your head and neck in an almost butterfly fashion – as if trying to touch the back of each shoulder with the opposite hand.

Do NOT try to run outdoors. The outside walls of buildings take the sheer force of the building’s motion during shaking so are most susceptible to collapse or falling debris from structural damage.

Cover – If possible, try to seek cover under a table or desk to protect you from potential falling debris, toppling furniture, and flying unsecured objects. Ideally get your entire body under the table or desktop. If that is not possible, try to get at least your head and neck under the table, desk or even a chair. Make sure your head and neck are half way between the underside of the table or desktop and the ground – because both will be moving in a major quake and either one can injure you. Stay under cover until the shaking stops. If there is no table or desk near where you dropped to the ground, seek cover next to an inside wall or next to a sofa or chair. Use either the sofa cushion, or your hands and arms as described above, to protect your head and neck. If in bed, stay in bed. Roll into the fetal position and use your bed pillow to protect your head and neck.

Do NOT seek Cover in a doorway. In wood framed homes doorways are less safe than dropping and taking cover next to inside walls or under a table or desk. Running to doorways in public places during a quake cannot only create injuries but potential death from stampede. Exterior wall doorways are most dangerous. If you are in an adobe (mud) or older unreinforced brick building in which the walls are likely to crumble in a major quake, then getting to a doorway may be safer than remaining unprotected. The old “get to a doorway” advice was based on the fact that the doorway is the only wooden structure in adobe (mud) homes and mud crumbles when strongly shaken. Swinging doors and the sheer back and forth motion of the building during shaking have injured many people who have sought refuge in doorways in even moderate quakes.

Hold On! – We mean this literally! If you sought cover under a table or desk, you will want to keep that cover over our body until the shaking stops. Both the ground and the table or desk will be moving. So Hold On! to the leg of the desk or table somewhere above the halfway point of the furniture leg yet NOT at the top. Then do whichever is easier – either Hold On! and crawl along with the furniture as it moves (as long as it is safe to do so), or Hold On! and try to keep the furniture from moving away from you.

When the shaking stops Do NOT be in too big of a hurry to leave your place of cover. Ceiling tiles, light fixtures, and supports for drop ceilings may be dangling at head and eye height. There is also likely to be broken glass and debris all around you. Unsecured furniture may have toppled and be blocking your exit route. So proceed with extreme caution. Remember that strong aftershocks are likely within a matter of minutes after a major quake. You need to be prepared to Drop, Cover and Hold ON! for each aftershock.

But what about that “new” advice in the Triangle of Life email I got??? The Triangle of Life theory has been discredited by experts. Please see: