Thursday, March 17, 2011

This is a pretty good link
Centers for Disease Control - Radiation info
The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale available from IAEA is very colorful....

Still perhaps at the heart of the troubling issues are the public's need for authoritative information, in general - even when some of that information is "we don't know", it would still help to understand best-case and worst-case scenarios.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Radiation awareness and safety education

Dear Colleagues,

We'd like to up the ante on the quality of public education for radiation safety.

Much of the information readily available to the public is too technical, too general, and unclear about exactly what to do and when. The issue, as always, is to empower people so that they can make a difference, rather than sit by feeling helpless and overwhelmed.

We'd like your help to share the best information available:
a) your favorite resource (website, graphic, wikipedia entry, document, academic paper - whatever!)
b) your ideas for how to improve on it
c) add your concerns and topics to the list below

Let's find the best there is and bring it together to improve on it, or at least point people towards it.

Some of the issues that could be addressed better esp. perhaps with good infographics.
- Right-to-know and advocacy issues
- Matrix of possible consequences at different distances
- The relationship between amount of annual or lifetime exposure and continued exposure over time
- Simple presentation of exposure amounts and their real-life equivalents (eg. red/orange/yellow/green scale) 
- When to do what (ie. before someone tells you that the geiger counter says you've been exposed to a dangerous dose)
- Long-term precautions re: food & water

Here are a couple of the most straightforward info sources we've found to start the ball rolling.

Humor also accepted - but please mark it as such, as many of us seem to have misplaced our sense of humor and will need specific guidance about when to smile.

Let's find the best there is and bring it together to improve on it, or at least point people towards it.

Post it here!


Monday, February 15, 2010

Community-based Construction Education - Experience for Haiti and beyond

For those who haven't come across it, I would like to refer you first to the Confined Masonry Network "dedicated to promote seismically safe and economical housing worldwide by bringing quality confined masonry into the design and construction mainstream."  Tom Schacher's contribution of educational materials developed in India and international efforts at collaboration mark significant progress.  Also two social networks with efforts to support disaster resilient reconstruction in Haiti:  Haiti Rewired which is working on adaptation of confined masonry handbook from Marcial Blondet in Peru, and Reconstructing Haiti.  In addition, UNESCO is leading an ad hoc group that grew out of the UNISDR Global Platform contributing the Global Task Force for Building Codes Resource Page and hopes to spur early action towards usable building codes, esp. for school and hospital reconstruction.  Resources from Kashmir, Bhuj, China, and elsewhere all invited.

Contribution from Tom Schacher

We would like to invite those with experience in both community-based disaster resilient construction education and strategic planning for post-disaster disaster-resilient reconstruction to put your experience into pithy 4-5 paragraph, blogs - with illustrations please.  Bearing in mind that our colleagues on the ground have little time to read, no room to be rhetorical or pedantic just now.

Many with international experience in community-based construction education have been pre-authorized to contribute here. If anyone else would like to contribute, please write to mpetal @  (removing the spaces from the address).

Contribution from IFRC China

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Invitation to Colleagues in Disaster Prevention Education

Dear Colleagues:

Because you have evidence interest in Doug Copp's education crusade before, and because he is alive and made credible by the UN and Time Magazine, among others - this is a one-time e-mail to see if you can help us to part of the solution.

Please read this WHOLE article from a professional journalist at
to see where we are at present.

Alas, Copp and the mass media have succeeded in making the issue: "Drop, Cover Hold" vs. "Triangle of Life". The issue MUST be re-formulated in terms of developing the evidence-basis for what to do to prevent earthquake deaths and injures. I am appealing to you to be part of a small group willing to take this on.

Our 10-year strategy of ignoring Doug Copp and hoping he would disappear has failed.
We have under-estimated:
1. the power of viral e-mail, his web-site and persona to broadcast his message, and his ability to turn appealing fragments into a credible story.
2. the hunger for simple solutions to earthquake safety that begin when the shaking starts

We would like to propose the following actions.
#1. We will begin a draft of a Joint Statement to take on the issue of "What to Do When the Shaking Starts".
The focus will be that a) what scientific research to date shows b) the need for further scientific research on the causes of deaths and injuries c) the errors and dangers in Copp's worst advice d) that solutions lie in what to do before the shaking starts. The focus will consider differences in construction type, but it will be international in scope. I would like this to be a group formulation signed by yourselves and other leading, credible and legitimate authorities. IF anyone is on Google Wave and can contribute through that tool, please let us know. Otherwise we may use Google Docs to collaborate.

#2. We would like to field a proposal to design and facilitate field data collection and analysis and reporting of results on
a) the causes of deaths and injuries in the Haiti, Bhuj and Kashmir earthquakes (in comparison to existing literature from California, Turkey, Japan and Italy).
b) investigate Copp's claims and 'evidence'.
c) report this in such a way as to be useful to humanitarian aid agencies, governments, RC/RC societies
d) report this to inform disaster reduction education efforts to protect people from structural and non-structural causes of earthquake deaths and injuries
e) produce at least one short video to disseminate and illustrate the findings.
f) hold a public panel to present the findings in an authoritative manner.
The order of the proposal will be $250,000 and require some in-kind support in Bhuj and Kashmir, and research collaborators in the field in all 3 places.

Please note that the research on the causes of deaths and injuries in the 1999 Kocaeli earthquake funded by AFSC and ARC in Turkey, and the dissemination efforts funded by USAID made an enormous difference in our ability to get legitimate credible public education advice on disaster risk reduction disseminated and acted upon there. Petal's dissertation research 'Evidence-based Public Education for Disaster Prevention' (2009) is available from VDM. Please also take note of: 'Human Casualties in Natural Disasters: Progress in Modelling and Mitigation' (forthcoming) Spence, R.J.S, So. E and Scawthorn, C.. Springer.

IF YOU ARE PREPARED TO ASSIST IN ANY WAY including in modifying and adding to this strategy, please respond to this by e-mail to the address below.
If you are unable to, we will not bother you further - until there is any more to say.


Marla Petal, Ph.D. & Ilan Kelman, Ph.D.
Co-Directors, Risk RED

Saturday, October 10, 2009


This poster from Whitman College says it all - I finally have something to twitter about! If this was a competition for best disaster reduction messages, this would be a winner- Let's see some more! Guest bloggers welcome! mpetal AT

Saturday, July 25, 2009


From guest blogger: Ian Davis July 2009

“.......This hen-house language might not matter if it were confined to the business world. But it has escaped, like some malign virus , and is infecting us all. I would love to claim that the BBC, with its proud history of championing good English, is fighting back. Sadly, it is not. We have been suborned. A colleague of mine interviewed a young man who was applying for a job in his department. He asked him what he had been doing in the few months since he left Cambridge. He was told ‘Proactively networking’. He should have been thrown out of the building on the spot or, better still, publicly executed, his body left to hang in the lobby of the Television Centre as a warning to others. Instead he gave him the job. The young man is now, I have no doubt, a middle manager telling his colleagues how he can ‘progress’ his latest challenge,- or some such rubbish” John Humphrys (Introduction to Cochrane J. (2003) ‘Between You and I- A Little Book of Bad English’ Cambridge Icon Books

Some really horrible words/ expressions/ ‘managementspeak’/’socialsciencespeak’ jargon tortures the Queens, and Obama’s English. The ever expanding torrent fills the reports we hear on radio/TV or are obliged to read. This terminological jungle is a particularly pain within the development/ humanitarian community, and I not only have to read the stuff every day, suffer from it whenever I attend a conference but worse still, find myself unwittingly writing and speaking the same twisted language. I have put up with it, and alas perpetuated it, for all of 37 years and it has got to stop!

The jargon has a distinct following, a pair of examples: To relieve the boredom suffered in umpteen development conferences, a helpful friend- Geoff Payne who works in the low-cost housing/ urbanisation field , has invented a game called ‘Bingo’ (But... see the second PS). This required the development of a list of key words that of course had to include:
• Sustainability
• Stakeholder
• Holistic
• Gender sensitive
• Indicators
• Bottom-up
• Empowerment.... etc. etc. etc.

Whenever a conference speaker gets up to share his (and its mainly men..!) pearls of wisdom the various Bingo Players in the conference hall have a checklist on their laps and when the speaker has used all the jargon on the list, the first of the competitors to recognise the achievement (this normally takes less than three minutes) has to climb on their seat and shout ‘BINGO’ very loudly . This has the electrifying effect of the platform speaker halting the flow of verbiage for a few seconds, while the prize winner is frog marched from the hall by conscientious minders.

My other example occurred in Angola when running a course on Disaster Management in 1994. As the course ended a local NGO director asked me “which words should I use to use in funding applications to ensure success?” In the subsequent, rather strange, conversation he told me that he had looked hard at the literature and felt that there were certain essential words or expressions to be sprinkled liberally throughout the text of any project funding application to International NGO’s , The UN or Donor Government Agencies.

In seeking confirmation that he had learned the language of development funding correctly, he produced a well worn list from his wallet, and it was no surprise that the list included:
• Sustainability
• Stakeholder
• Holistic
• Gender sensitive
• Indicators etc.etc.etc.
In fact , when Geoff Payne showed me the rules of Bingo, the similarity of their lists made me wonder whether my Angolan student was in fact his co-author!

Therefore we, the undersigned, faithfully promise to cut ourselves away from the
world of the word merchants, in order to think and write with clarity and purpose,
and promise never, ever, to use such vocabulary again until our dying day, and we
promise to play the BINGO game in all future conferences , and insist that BINGO
checklists go in all future participant conference packs.....

The provisional list of no less than 93 examples of verbiage. (Additions/ Deletions welcome)
• Actualization
• Actualizing Interventions
• Access Funding
• At this moment in time...
• At this point in time....
• As of now...
• Basically
• Beaconicity
• Blue Sky Assessment (unless applied to meteorological analysis)
• Bottom-Up and Top-Down and Hands-On and Hands-Off
• Brainstorming
• Building on Best Practice
• Collateral Damage
• Common Approach Delivery Mechanisms
• Concretize (note the US spelling...)
• Conscientize (ditto..)
• Cross-Cutting Issues
• Data Mining
• Data Processing
• Delivering Objectives
• Descriptors
• Dialogue Mechanism
• Dialogue Teaching
• Diarise (this is when the Blackberries come out..)
• Disaggregate
• Double-loop learning (unless applied to aerobatics)
• Early Wins
• Ensuring Access (unless opening a door)
• Epigenic (?)
• Facilitator
• Facilitation
• Factor Analysis
• Factor-in and Factor-out
• Fault Line (unless applied to a seismic fault line)
• Flag-up
• Framework Parameters
• Gender Awareness
• Gender Sensitive
• Globalistic (makes this reader ‘go ballistic’...)
• Going forward
• Grassroots empowerment (but OK as a horticultural process to fertilise a lawn)
• Hands-On and Hands-Off
• Human Resource Development (HRD)
• Holistic
• In-Depth Analysis (unless applied to Scuba Diving)
• In-Tandem (unless applied to two people on the same bike)
• Interactive formulation
• Level Descriptor
• Level Playing Field (unless applied to a level playing field)
• Logarithmic
• Log Frame Analysis
• Low Hanging Fruit
• Macro and Micro everything
• Mainstream (unless applied to the middle of a river)
• Methodology
• Modalities
• Moving the Goalposts (unless at the end of the football season)
• North- South Interchange (but just as long as you don’t live in Australia)
• Participative Action
• Participatory
• Performance Indicator
• Platform (unless at a railway station)
• Proactive
• Proactive Networking
• Public/Private Partnerships (PPP)
• Rendition
• Revisiting Issues
• Seismic Impact (unless it is an earthquake)
• Sensitize
• Service Provider
• Silo (unless it is a Silo full of wheat)
• Sourcing the Inputs and Outsourcing the Outputs (Ugh)
• Special Service Provider (SSP)
• Stakeholder Analysis
• Stakeholder Partnership
• Stakeholder Engagement
• Stakeholder Management
• Stakeholder (unless applied to someone holding up a vertical wooden stake)
• Stretching the Envelope (unless applied to an attempt to place a large letter into a smaller envelope)
• Sustainable Livelihoods
• SWOT Analysis
• Take Forward
• Target (unless applied in archery)
• Tease Out
• Tokenism
• Tokenistic
• Thinking in Silos
• Thinking outside the Box (unless applied to someone giving serious thought with the Television switched off)
• Ticking the Boxes
• Toolkit (unless applied to a box of tools)
• Unpacking the issues
• Value Added
• Workshop (unless applied to a room where work takes place)
• Workshop Facilitation

Saturday, May 23, 2009

CARD's blog

Please do follow CARD's blog. There are great posting on Couch Potato Preparedness. The new post explains how Sound of Music (1965) is a classic for sustainability and the sheer number of preparedness lessons. To see the whole thing check out:

Anna Marie is thinking we need some new words to My Favorite Things. So here are a few words. I'm thinking everyone could contribute more, a few more tunes, and in no time - a Disaster Prevention Chorus.

(sing to the tune of My Favorite Things...)

Bolts to foundation for houses of wood
When the ground shakes they will stay where they should

L-brackets generously applied to bookcases
Chandeliers fastened, won’t fall on our faces

Columns and beams that are well-connected
Hold up the ceilings now we are protected

Symmetric design and continuous frame
reinforced concrete without any shame

Let’s add some verses and start up a chorus
Someday there will be no more need for us

Over to you!!

Eathquake Avenger

More on the ShakeOut International School Safety Observation Team to come.
I promise to post more often. So much happening, so little time to devote to sharing it...
But here's some nice coverage from MORE Magazine.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

GOOD Practice! Ye Zhiping

Thanks to the New York Times for its excellent coverage of this VERY important story. This is a story that goes to the heart of disaster prevention.
Below is an excerpt drawn from a touching, longer and very well-written parable by Milo Thornberry Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Ye Zhiping knew about the shoddy construction of at least one of the Sangzao Middle School buildings because he had been a young teacher there when the building was constructed.
"Quality inspectors were supposed to be here to oversee construction of this building," he said. "When the foundation was laid, they should have been here. When the concrete was put into the pillars, they should have been here. But they weren't. In the end, no government official dared to come inspect this building because it was built without any standards…"
"I was among the first teachers who moved into this building, and I was pretty young," Ye said. "Our awareness of safety wasn't the same as now."
Ye’s attitude changed after he became principal twelve years ago.
If I knew there was a hidden danger, and I didn't do anything about it, then I would be the one responsible," he said.
From the day he became principal he didn’t waste time. He set about to get the funds for a complete overhaul of the buildings. One can only imagine the response of the “wise old greybeards” in the bureaucracy when he sought the money for the reconstruction. The county was poor and Sangzao was only a farming village. But Ye continued to pester the officials until he got 400,000 yuan (about $60,000). From 1996 to 1999 he personally oversaw a complete overhaul of the structure.
Most crucial were changes made to concrete pillars and floor panels. Each classroom had four rectangular pillars that were thickened so they jutted from the walls. Up and down the pillars, workers drilled holes and inserted iron reinforcing rods because the original ones were not enough, Ye said. The concrete slab floors were secured so they would be able to withstand intense shaking.
There were probably other greybeards in the school who thought that the principal had more important things to do than spend his time supervising the renovation.
Ye not only brought structural integrity to the buildings; he also had students and teachers prepare for a disaster. They rehearsed an emergency evacuation plan twice a year.
On May 12, Principal Ye was in a town fifty kilometers away when the earthquake came. As he worked his way back to his school he saw the rubble to which buildings had been reduced on the way. On the day that 10,000 students were crushed by collapsing school buildings, 1,000 of them in a school less than 20 miles away, the students at Sangzao Middle School managed to evacuate in less than two minutes.
The students lined up row by row on the outdoor basketball courts…. When the head count was complete, their fate was clear: All 2,323 were alive.
Students and parents credited “Angel Ye.”
“We’re very thankful,” Qiu Yanfang, 62, the grandmother of a student, said as she sat outside the school knitting a brown sweater. “The principal helped ease the nation’s loss, both the psychological loss and the physical loss.”
These days, students are seen darting in and out of the school to retrieve books, ducking under blue tape clearly marked danger. The building looks secure enough, but not to Principal Ye. He said it has to be torn down and a new one built, not simply to withstand an 8.0 that came this time, but to withstand an 11 or 12. And he expects to be there to see that it is built right."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

People died doing exactly what they were told to do

In Australia's fire storms "People died doing exactly what they were told to do" February 11, 2009 according to Philip Chubb, associate professor of journalism at Monash University.

Friends: 'same old same old' doesn't cut it. We have a lot of work to do to make sure that our safety advice is both evidence and experience-based.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lighting Quiz

It's been a busy summer! Justin Sharpe has something to show for it: He has created a new quiz on the social network for drr educators at

You can also try the quiz at:

The image, which nicely debunks at least one myth is from

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Petal Quits Disaster Risk Reduction

Friends Craig Duncan and Eric Gunderson both highly recommended that I read "Made to Stick". Eric actually sent me a copy to be sure that I read it.

This book is changing the entire way that I view and practice disaster prevention education. It is going to take me some time to absorb and apply all of it's very important lessons. The first one you can see right here. I have changed the title of this blog to DISASTER PREVENTION PRAXIS.

There is no escaping it. "Risk" is an actuarial term or a term from higher mathematics. It is addressed only to professionals and not to anyone at a grassroots level. I had to get honest. When people ask what I do and I start with "disaster risk reduction" their eyes glaze over. Even my dearest friends and relatives cannot repeat my explanations five minutes later when they introduce me to someone new. "Meet Marla" they say "She's involved in very important work in disaster response." Hmpf! I have to admit I have failed miserably...

So I am no longer doing "disaster risk reduction" which only ends conversations. The term "DRR" will never get us where we want to go. The "Curse of Knowledge" has caused us to "bury the lead". The lead (drumroll please...) "Disasters are Preventable!". "Meet Marla" my friends can now say, "She teaches disaster prevention." "Disaster prevention?" they will object "how can you prevent disasters? I didn't think anyone could prevent disasters!" ... and then we will have a conversation...

I'm now ordering 10 copies of "Made to Stick" to give away. Please read the book! You can order it from Amazon, or chapter by chapter through iTunes. If you order your copy of Made to Stick through my website proceeds will be used to buy copies for others.

RADICAL readjust by all of us is necessary. Bad news for many of us... including Risk RED!! Any ideas??? And (catchy but inaccurate message - better change to (which might want to consider (

Please post your discoveries and comments!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Earthquake Safe Havens a Non-Starter

There's a little discussion following Ana-Marie's posting below in which Garry brings up the notion of building "safe haven" spaces from earthquakes. I think that this is a non-starter. The ONLY possible safe haven for 1,000 children in a school building is the classrooms themselves.

Before the design, engineering and construction problems I can see several very serious problems with the notion of designing and building earthquake-safe havens:

1. There is no evidence that those subject to strong shaking can go anywhere at all. Most people report that they can't move anywhere safely. So there's no option but for the whole building to be strong enough not to collapse. (The only exception are those very far from the epicenter who may be able to get an early warning from primary waves).

2. For schools it doesn't work just because of the density of occupancy. You'd have to build another place as big as a school to accommodate 1,000 children in a safe haven - so the school itself has to be the safe haven.

3. Suppose that people survived in the thousands in life safe voids, by design or even by accident. Judging by the evidence from both Kashmir and Weichuan, we'd have to be honest and let people know that life-safe voids will not be uncovered within the golden 72 hours for survival... "Lucky" people probably did survive in these places - just to perish there later, unrescued...

4. Even if we could anticipate places where search and rescue will find survivors, we can't responsibly tell people to do something to get to those spots until we first ascertain that such advice would not do more harm than good. This applies equally to the ideas of "safe havens" and "life-safe voids":

Take these photos as an example.
Just because search and rescue workers can prove that they save more people near the outer walls of collapsed buildings does not mean that everyone should get near outer walls. Just because "outside" away from the building is safer than inside, does not mean that everyone should run outside. In both of these building, drop cover and hold would have been the safest thing to do. If people had congregated by the outer walls they would have fallen to their deaths. If they had run outside, they would have been smothered by falling debris.

So the question is not "What could have been done to save people in the buildings with the most fatalities?" The question has to be "What can be done to eliminate fatalities and reduce injuries?" The latter requires a much broader perspective and a research method that that looks at the currently safe sites as well as the most hazardous sites.

I don't think the "cost savings" idea for building earthquake-safe havens works either. I would bet that it would be very hard to find a poor surviving parent in China who believes that they could not afford to build their child's school a safe school.

Indeed we are all agreed that there is a LOT more to learn... about being able to anticipate collapse patterns, about how long it takes buildings to collapse, about the differential rates of deaths and injuries in heavily damaged vs. collapsed buildings, about what is the safest course of action for everyone who is going to feel the shaking and therefore follow whatever advice it is that we promote.

Let's see who wants to step up to fund this research, and pursue it systematically!

P.S. As for doorways - the biggest problem is that they are all so different, depending on construction and placement. Some offer some protection to one or two people (except for the injuries caused by the door itself swinging), others offer none at all. Doorways are a non-starter for schools no matter what the class size.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fasten the Furniture!

Click on this link to watch this Japanese shake table test. It very visually shows the dangers posed by "non-structural elements" (the furnishings and equipment) inside a building. It shows you why you should not be anywhere near a tall or heavy piece of furniture, why it's worth battening everything down, and visual evidence of why we teach people to "drop, cover, and hold on". Thanks to Bogaziçi University, Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute for the table top model photo. Thanks to SEEDS of India and GeoHazards International for the illustration of "L brackets".

DROP, COVER & HOLD ON from Ana-Marie Jones

Our colleague Ana-Marie Jones, Executive Director, Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters has generously allowed me to print her very detailed and helpful elaboration of the "Drop, Cover and Hold On" explanation, that CARD uses in their trainings. If you click on the title of this blog post it will take you to CARD's link on rumor-control and more educational resources.
Drop, Cover and Hold On - Standing in Doorways - Triangle of Life

After disasters, when interest in preparedness is high (and public trust is low) we find that misinformation, rumors and scams flourish. The bad news is that this can leave people confused and unable to make well-informed decisions to protect themselves, their families and their communities. The good news is that anyone can help sort through the growing collection of outdated, wrong or misleading information.

At CARD, we encourage alternative modes of learning and thinking, and we have found it valuable to question even the most widely accepted advice. Below are some of the concepts and conversations we share in CARD classes and presentations when asked about Drop, Cover and Hold On, standing in doorways, and "Triangle of Life."

Please note that this guidance was created for audiences in the United States. Building codes, construction materials, and the typical contents of buildings varies widely from country to country. Also note that the info below does not include the advice we give for people unable to physically do any of these actions.

About Drop, Cover and Hold On (DCH) … CARD recommends this method
*Drop* This is done as a conscious and controlled protective action. It is far better to place yourself gently on the floor, than to have the earthquake violently throw you to the ground.

*Cover* Taking cover under sturdy furniture provides some immediate protection from falling debris. Almost any item can be dangerous in an earthquake. Getting hit, cut or injured by objects and debris in your immediate environment is widely considered to be the most likely threat in an earthquake.

*Hold On* Earthquakes can come with violent, prolonged shaking. Holding on to sturdy furniture can help stop you from being tossed around. If you are not holding on, the furniture can move away during the shaking, leaving you without protection.

Having a safe place to hide under sturdy furniture can provide some protection in other emergency conditions. This would be true in some explosions, some fire situations, as well as in some domestic violence situations, shootings and home invasions. Some self-defense courses include advice on using sturdy furniture as a protective measure.

You can preposition simple supplies under sturdy furniture. At CARD, we recommend taping whistles, LED mini-flashlights or light sticks, and basic emergency instructions under sturdy furniture -- so that you'll have these supplies where you take cover.

About Standing in Doorways...CARD does NOT recommend this.
Standing in a doorway is unsafe during an earthquake. This practice is a perfect example of *outdated* information. When we lived in adobe structures for example, the wooden doorframe was often the most solid part of the structure, and we were told that this was the best place to be in an earthquake. With modern building codes, different construction standards, stronger materials, and lessons learned from many earthquakes, this advice is inappropriate.

Unfortunately, it takes time before we realize information is outdated, and there is often great resistance to change. It takes time, awareness and resources to develop new appropriate practices. New trainings must be created to teach new actions, and trainers must be trained to deliver the new information. Then the new, correct, information and trainings must be shared with the public.

One of the true challenges is that it is very hard for people to "unlearn" incorrect or outdated information. Many people tune-out advice once they think they already know the correct information. Others hear the "new" advice as an additional option, rather than an important life-saving correction, unless the instructor specifically states *why* the old information is no longer accurate.

Below are some of the other items we share in CARD conversations to help people unlearn standing in doorways as a protective measure.
--"Standing" anywhere during an earthquake is undesirable. Again, it is far better to put yourself quickly on the floor, than to have the earthquake throw you there.
--Doorways are often pathways to exits - so putting yourself directly in the path of scared people "running for safety" can be dangerous.
--Doorways often have doors in them. These doors tend to swing and slam with the movements of the earthquake. This increases chances of finger or facial injury if the door slams.
--During an earthquake, doorways (especially those leading to the outside) open into the unknown -- where unreinforced masonry, glass shards and other hazards are often found.

There are many reasons why we believe it's the safer choice to *Drop* to the ground, take *Cover* under sturdy furniture, and *Hold On *until the shaking stops. There are many reasons why standing in doorways is dangerous and undesirable.

About the "Triangle of Life"… CARD does NOT recommend this method. The method known as the "Triangle of Life" is mainly promoted by an individual named Doug Copp. He identifies himself as being with an organization called ARTI – American Rescue Team International. His method has been shared across the United States in the form of an email. The "Triangle of Life" email states that if you Drop, Cover and Hold On in an earthquake, you'll be crushed to death.

Item #5 in the email promoting this method advises: "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." Copp maintains that by being in this position, you will be safe when the building collapses, because the furniture (since it is dense and will not compact much) will help create a triangle-shaped void, which he calls the "Triangle of Life."

Most all of the reputable disaster response and preparation agencies dispute this method. However, this fact is not what makes me reject it. After all, CARD embraces a method and message that differs greatly from the traditional approach. The arguments against the "Triangle of Life" are many, including:
--Thanks to enforced building codes and higher construction standards, the complete pancake collapse of the entire building is not the most likely threat we face from earthquakes in the United States. Complete pancake collapse is actually quite rare.
--The "Triangle of Life" positioning immediately exposes you to some of the most likely and most known threats, including being hit, cut, injured or killed by the contents of the room you are in -- when objects start moving violently in an earthquake.
--While "triangles" (what professional rescuers call 'void spaces' or 'life safe voids') are found AFTER the movement stops, it is not yet possible to determine where those voids will be BEFORE the movement starts. Furniture and other objects can move great distances in a major earthquake, sometimes all the way across the room. The fact that a void space is found near where an object landed AFTER the shaking stopped, does not mean its original location was a safe space for you to put your body BEFORE the movement started.

Last year I was teaching a class in Southern California and I met a woman who identified herself as being with ARTI. She promotes the "Triangle of Life" as the method to use in response to earthquakes. I asked her if she would tell me about the method from her perspective. We had a nice long conversation over the phone.

The complete, total, pancake collapse of structures is central to their belief and their argument for promoting the method. As I recall, reports indicate that *less than* 2.5% of all buildings damaged in the massive Kocaeli/Izmit earthquake (Turkey, August 1999, 7.4) suffered complete
pancake collapse. Even in heavily damaged buildings, most people were not killed -- approximately 1 in 20 overall. After hearing the explanation directly from a representative of ARTI, I am not at all moved to change my position.

Below are some links to what our traditional emergency response partners say about this issue and some of what has been posted about the controversy.

California OES response:

Earthquake Country:


Articles about Doug Copp, the creator of the "Triangle of Life":

Snopes Urban Legends Page:

Rumors, scams, hoaxes and good old-fashioned wrong information about threats and personal safety issues are costly. Losses come in the form of lost productivity, wasted dollars, increased anxiety and diminished trust -- none of which can we afford. Here is the GREAT NEWS: Anyone can help stop outdated, incorrect or misleading information from hurting our community!

CARD suggestions:
1) Seize the Teachable Moment! Even ridiculous rumors and misinformation present an opportunity to educate and motivate your audiences about safety and preparedness. Seize every chance to provide the correct information, dispel rumors, and bust scams.

2) Create a 'Rumors' page on your website. Post information to stop incorrect information, scams and rumors from hurting your community. Send reminders to people to check the rumors page BEFORE they pass along suspicious information.

3) Post rumor-busting information in designated spaces, such as the snack area or mailroom bulletin board. Many people do not surf the web looking for this kind of information. At CARD, we are major promoters of Potty Poster Preparedness -- these posters are designed to share empowered safety and preparedness information with captive audiences, such as users of your restroom. Post information where people will read it.

4) Consider linking to sites such as Barbara and David Mikkelson maintain Snopes, and they debunk urban legends and rumors of many kinds. A quick visit to the site and you'll find many examples of safety and disaster related rumors, scams and misinformation. The "Triangle of Life" email is there, as well as many variations of 9/11 and Y2K fiction and falsehoods.

5) Search your own website and resources. Make sure you have removed any incorrect, outdated or misleading information. If you are using booklets or pamphlets or other resources that contain outdated or wrong information, consider creating correction stickers to place on the cover or over the incorrect advice.

6) If you have forwarded incorrect information, be super-zealous about retracting the wrong information and providing correct information in its place.

7) Help your audiences to be more empowered consumers and more astute readers. Some of the claims that float around are simply absurd. They get forwarded onward simply because it has some small grain of truth AND the person passed it on without thinking. Help people to think it through for themselves.

Ana-Marie Jones, Executive Director,
CARD - Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters
1736 Franklin Street, Suite 450, Oakland, CA 94612
510-451-3140 || Fax: 510-451-3144

Helping Nonprofits Prepare to Prosper!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Communicating Disasters: an Asia Pacific resource book

This posting comes from Anup Karanth - first in an occasional series of RESOURCES and REVIEWS

Authors: Gunawardene,N.; Noronha,F.
Produced by: Television for Education Asia Pacific (2007)

The tsunami communication failures inspired much reflection in the global humanitarian community. There is now a growing recognition on the need for a culture of communication that values proper information management and inclusive information sharing.This book explores the different elements and combinations that could help evolve such a culture in Asia. The contributors draw on their experiences gained from working in either preparing disaster resilient communities or responding to humanitarian emergencies triggered by specific disasters.

Aimed at media professionals, disaster managers, development workers and civil society groups across Asia this book provides different perspectives and practical advice on how to communicate hazards and disasters at inter-personal, inter-agency, inter-sector and public levels.

Available online at:


These are the eloquent voices of survivors of school collapse, more compelling than our reams of reports and rants...

Please watch this video.
Please share this.
Please play this at gatherings of school officials and educators.
Please reach out to parents, teachers, and students in China to express your solidarity, and support the mobilization of these new and potentially powerful school safety advocates.

The smartest thing that the Chinese government could do now is to help turn the grief and anger of surviving parents into a school safety movement that will assure that it never happens again. Parent survivors could become partners to government - advocates, monitors and ombudsmen for disaster resilient construction, ensuring that from now onwards, every new school is a safe school, and every unsafe school is replaced.


School collapse in Mexico City earthquake, 1985. Thanks to unknown photographer!

I am of course much angrier about tens of thousands of children dying in their schools in China and in Kashmir, and wherever will be next than I am about Doug Copp who is, after all, probably well-intentioned. But what we are after here is an evidence-basis for what to teach and share about surviving a strong earthquake. And the evidence suggests not that everyone will be saved by anticipating triangles of life, but that it's too late when it shakes!

Every week I find about 10 bloggers reproducing Copp's viral e-mail. While one photograph does not constitute scientific evidence of what is safe in most circumstances - it certainly gives lie to one of Copp's assertions - that children died at their desks in the Mexico City earthquake in 1985. The main reason they didn't is that the earthquake did not take place during the school day. However, as this photograph shows, had the children in this school practiced "drop, cover and hold" they would mostly have survived unscathed.

Children in Kashmir and children in China did indeed die at their desks - betrayed by the very systems that made them attend school to prepare for bright futures. Given their proximity to the epicenter (negligible time between feeling the less damaging primary waves and the very damaging secondary waves), strong shaking, and speed of collapse - a reasonable hypothesis is that they had no time to do anything that could have been protective. (Photos of those schools also disprove that running outside is an option... the debris falls a in a radius around the outside equal to about 1/3 x the height of the building.)

Moreover, since clearly the survivable voids were not uncovered during the golden 48 hours for search and rescue, those who might have been lucky enough to survive for a time in those places, would most likely have died there days later... not really a prospect to get all excited about. (The subject of urban search and rescue is one to return to another time).

In a scientific study we would want to see a random selection of perhaps 100 schools in the affected geographic area, and look at construction type and number of stories as major variables.

Here is another real problem - typical double school desks in many countries have a footrests underneath that makes them a particularly awkward place to drop cover and hold. In these cases, getting down and protecting head and neck under the desk would be better than having these parts of the body exposed. Some countries (eg. Turkey) are replacing flimsy desks with steel desks. This is a fine idea, but it is no substitute for replacing unsafe buildings, and retrofitting those that are not built to withstand the expected shaking.

And finally - if you happened to have ever forwarded Doug Copp's email - please take it back and try to undo the damage. It's a good habit to research potential urban legends on Here's a 4-part investigative report on Doug Copp that should give people some pause:

On to other important topics...


This 2-page checklist is intended as a simple universal template developed for use by school safety advocates worldwide.

Please let us know if this is useful. If you'd like to sponsor a translation or adaptation, please work with a multi-disciplinary group representing different sectors and types of to get a consensus on terminology and appropriate localization. We would appreciate it if you would share your experiences with us.

Thanks to contributors: Sanjaya Bhatia, Patrizia Bitter, Balaka Dey, Rebekah Green, Yasamin Izadkhah, Anup Karanth, Ilan Kelman, Bishnu Pandey, Marla Petal, Kevin Ronan, Zeynep Turkmen, Suha Ulgen.


Thanks to Bogaziçi University, Kandilli Thanks to Bogaziçi University, Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute for these icons.
September 2006. Revised May 2008. This contribution is a rejoinder to Doug Copp's infamous "Triangle of Life" viral email. Read this, see and google Doug Copp.

If you took the time to read Douglas Copp's "Earthquake Tips" advice and you thought it might have some merit, or if you passed it on to anyone else, please read this and pass this back up or down the lines. If you haven't, and just want a few good tips for earthquake safety you can skip all the way to #5 and #6.


If Douglas Copp has gotten your attention about earthquake safety, I'd like to address some of the claims he makes that may have piqued your curiosity - because it's always good to hone our ability to think critically - and there are things you can and should do to be safer from earthquakes.

Yes, it is correct that there are places that after a building collapse are called "triangles of life". These "life safe voids" are the first places that search and rescue workers look for survivors. It's generally true that the larger the object and stronger the less it will compact. But don't be fooled. The force of earthquakes moves large and heavy objects. We don't know a) whether it is possible to anticipate where the life safe voids will be before the collapse, and b) whether it is possible to get there during the strong shaking of an earthquake. What we don't know in advance (but is worthy of research) is the expected collapse patterns in particular buildings or where these life safe voids will be when the shaking stops. If your building tilts in one direction, the "large and heavy object" that you are near, could crush you against the wall....

Douglas Copp maintains that "People inside of their vehicles are crushed when the road above falls in an earthquake and crushes their vehicles" and that in the Loma Prieta earthquake everyone killed would have survived if they had been able to get out of their cars and sit or lie next to them, because of the life-safe void nearby. This assertion is completely unscientific. Observing a crushed car with a life safe void next to it doesn't mean much. The car itself may have moved after the shaking started. There is a lot of evidence of cars and truck overturning in strong shaking. If everyone got out of their cars and got down next to them, a lot of people would be dead or seriously injured from the weight of the car jumping or sliding on top of them.

The evidence used for some of these tips are the so-called Turkish "experiment" that Douglas Copp says he was involved with. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to the others involved, this was not an experiment at all, but rather a voluntary organization's search and rescue exercise. My colleagues in Turkey corroborate that a building scheduled for demolition was used as a search and rescue training opportunity. They did decide to put the mannequins in different spots to see what would happen. And indeed they reported finding mannequins unharmed next to large and heavy objects.

What is the problem with this? Simply this: To collapse the building, they rammed the columns, causing the building to pancake. They did NOT simulate an earthquake. Earthquakes come in waves. They cause lateral shaking. They cause a variety of different kinds of damage. Since this experiment didn't produce anything resembling shaking it really doesn't tell us anything at all about what would happen during an earthquake. It could be that the large and heavy furniture would end up at the other end of the room, nowhere near where it began. Assuming even for a moment that an experiment could be done to support the hypothesis, the reality is that the particular results from a pancake collapse, while certainly the most fatal, represents the least common type of reinforced concrete building collapse. There are at least 4 other major types of collapse. Less than 3% of damaged buildings in the 1999 Kocaeli, Turkey earthquake were pancaked. So these results would tell us precious little about what might happen to people in all the other buildings... the other 97% of damaged buildings as well as the many undamaged buildings. Formulating the questions in order to advise EVERYONE about what to do when the shaking starts is much more complex than the evidence in front of one individual rescue worker's eyes.


Search and rescue workers desperately want to save lives. In reality, worldwide their experience is of bringing out at least 98 dead bodies to 2 live ones. Some would like to turn the one life they saved into a cautionary anecdote for the other millions of people who were potential victims. There is a place for these stories, but extrapolating to the millions is not scientific. It really doesn't matter if one or if ten people are found alive next to a refrigerator, unless you look at 100 or 1,000 refrigerators after an earthquake to see what might have happened to people who might have been near them at the time of the shaking. When you give advice to people about what to do during an earthquake, you are basically advising everyone who feels the shaking.

In Kocaeli we would have loved to be able to advise the 20,000 who died so that even a few lives could be saved. But remember that in order to save any of them, we would have to advise all 15,000,000 people who felt the shaking and were in a position to take some action. Suppose that our advice could save 1,000 people from death in pancaked buildings (highly unlikely) but if it also put .00007 percent of all the people who felt the shaking at risk of death and serious injury we would have done more harm than good. In other words, the behavior that may save someone in a particular collapsed building may put more people at more risk in other buildings.

When I show Californians pictures from Turkish publications with people crouched down next to refrigerators and kitchen counters, instead of under the nearby kitchen table, their jaws drop in horror. Obviously these people are in danger from the refrigerator sliding and toppling and emptying its contents, the hot things on the stove, the appliances on the counter and the packed contents of the cabinets overhead. Obviously they should be under the kitchen table, or outside the kitchen door. But this is exactly the lunacy that these kinds of "I found one person alive here" anecdotes can lead to. Some people in Turkey will die in the next earthquake because of this.

Please note that only a few lives have ever been saved by taking other actions (running out, jumping out of windows). Most people who will be killed by their buildings will never have a chance to do anything at all. The only solution to unsafe buildings is not to build them and not to occupy them. Retrofit those that can be made safe and tear down the rest.

Having said that, most of my scientific colleagues and I have come to the uneasy compromise that IF people are occupying a self-built adobe structure with a heavy roof, and with no seismic-resistant design measures, and if they are on the ground floor and can run out quickly to a safe and open place outside, they should do so when the shaking begins. Otherwise, they should still drop, cover and hold on. Adobe collapses are much more survivable when the roofing is of lightweight material. But the reality is that protection from earthquake deaths takes place way before the shaking begins. It will take a lot of well-designed research to learn if there is, in fact, ANY behavior that is better than luck in saving someone from a building collapse, and that can be guaranteed not to endanger more people than it helps! As with other helping efforts: "First, do no harm."


Douglas Copp makes lots of outrageous claims for which there is no research, like "Everyone who simply "ducks and covers" WHEN BUILDINGS COLLAPSE is crushed to death -- Every time, without exception." "Everybody who gets under a doorway when buildings collapse is killed." At best these are extreme statements that are hypotheses to be tested. It would be great for search and rescue workers and social science researchers to get together to investigate hypotheses like these.

He also says "Get Near the Outer Walls Of Buildings Or Outside Of Them If Possible...because of the greater the probability that your escape route will be blocked." There is no evidence of this. A contrary hypothesis suggests that especially in concrete building with infill tile walls, the tiles fall out and so could you. This is also a good subject for research, but at present it's nothing more than an untested hypothesis.

Please understand that even the best scientific methods don't always provide perfect or even helpful results. Nevertheless, scientific methods should be used to investigate our hunches. There are many important questions that we haven't begun to answer - but absolute claims like this are just total rubbish and no substitute.


Douglas Copp's Earthquake Tips recommends the "fetal position" in order to "survive in a smaller void". The idea of being small is fine. Getting down low prevents falling injuries, and making yourself a smaller target means there is less to be hit. However, when we tried this informally in Turkey on an earthquake simulation shake table, the "curled up in a ball" fetal position made us prone to rolling around. This didn't actually feel safe to us. What felt much safer was to get down as low as possible on our knees and shins so that we had some control over our movements and could still crawl to a more secure place.

Indications from research in Kocaeli is that the advice to get down "next to a sofa, next to a large bulky object that will compress slightly but leave a void next to it." is supported by a random sample of survivors in the most hard-hit areas. Many Kocaeli survivors would agree that this would have been both possible and safe in that earthquake. This is a good hypothesis that should be further investigated.

Also correct is the statemnent that "Wooden buildings are the safest type of construction to be in during an earthquake." They're also the worst in case of fire after an earthquake. So while those in wooden homes can take some comfort, be prepared to put out fires when they are still small with fire extinguishers and blankets.

However another piece of advice "If you are in bed during the night and an earthquake occurs, simply roll off the bed." is contradicted by scientific research findings. Actually, the safest people in earthquakes in both California and Turkey were those who stayed in bed. (Shoaf et. al, 2000. Petal 2004). If the building tilts and the bed moves. the foot of the bed may not be the best place to be.

Some observations may be accurate but the solutions highly impractical. For example, Copp's discovery that while crawling inside of collapsed newspaper offices and other offices with a lot of paper, that paper does not compact." Sure, large voids are found surrounding stacks of paper. This might be good information for the grocery store, but only if the shelves are bolted to the floor or ceiling. Frankly if you live in a building that you think is a collapse risk, ethically the only good advice is to suggest that you to find another place to live, rather than to rely on a pile of paper or a container of books in every room to save your life. This may seem pathetic, but at least 3 different publications in Turkey have photos of people crouching down next to enormous containers of paper products in the middle of their living rooms. Let's get real - our job is to live with earthquakes. This kind of advice makes the tasks of public education and preparedness harder than it already is.

The advice: "Never go to the stairs." is good.


• Think through personal scenarios in the places you live and work. What spots seem safer than others?
• Make your environment safer by fastening tall and heavy furniture and audiovisual equipment,
• Move heavy objects down low.
• Keep shoes and flashlight in a plastic bag tied to the end of your bed
• During the shaking, drop down to the ground. Cover your head and neck. Hold on to your cover or something stable. In other words, “DROP, COVER and HOLD ON”.
• After the shaking stops, look around for anyone injured. Spend 2 seconds to survey the damage and exit the building carefully. DO NOT stay anywhere near a seriously damaged building or even garden wall – it may collapse in an aftershock.

Why do we persist in saying these things? What is the proof? Research into the causes of deaths and injuries in several countries has now shown several important patterns: a) Fatalities are almost always associated with head, neck and chest injuries. These are the most vulnerable areas of the body that need to be protected. b) Many injuries are caused by falling. If you get down yourself, or brace yourself, you can avoid falling. c) A huge proportion of night time injuries are to feet and legs... even in places with minor damage.... picture frame on floor, no shoes, no lights, parents/children trying to find each other in the dark.... d) At least half of all injuries are from non-structural objects. Many of these injuries are serious, made more so by the intense demand on limited medical resources. We can't be complacent about any unnecessary injuries when limited medical resources will be needed to save lives. e) The smaller target you present to falling objects the less chance there is of something hitting you.


Urban earthquake mitigation requires all of us to be involved in three major activities: assessment and planning, reducing our physical risks, and developing our ability to respond.

(Think and act now.)
• Sit down with your family and discuss possible scenarios.
• Decide on meeting places inside and outside of your neighbourhood.
• Identify an "out-of-area contact" for quicker communication and peace of mind.
• Designate others nearby to pick up your child from school in case of emergency, and make a meeting plan with them.

(Take measures to reduce your physical risks.)
• If you aren't sure about the structural soundness of you home, workplace or school, have it assessed by a qualified engineer.
• Retrofit where possible. Move out, and tear down where not possible.
• Fasten large and heavy furniture.
• Secure water heaters.
• Have a fire extinguisher on each floor and have it serviced regularly.

(Be ready to be part of the solution.)
• Have enough water, food, and prescription medications for a week.
• Keep a first aid kit.
• Check your "Go Bag" in your car and by your door.
• Learn first aid, fire suppression, wireless communication skills, and organizational skills for disaster response.

Disaster preparedness is not accomplished overnight. It takes place in a series of small steps taken at home, at work, at school, in your neighborhood and in your region. It is accomplished by actions by individuals, families, organizations, institutions, and government.

Reflecting on the most recent tragic earthquake, and the grief felt by survivors should lead us all to wonder what we can do to avoid such needless destruction. This is a good time to make yourself a promise, and take one of these small steps today.