Monday, June 16, 2008

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 The good news is that anyone can help sort through the growing collection of outdated, wrong or misleading information.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!


threecentsworth said...

Garry de la Pomerai replies:
Dear Ana-Marie,
firstly i commend you for such a comprehensive reply and appraisal of the variations of initial good practice during an earthquake. You have quite rightly outlined a variety of options, highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of the victims options to suggested actions from differing organisations. I would like to add small amount of 'food for thought' from experience as a Rescue Technician and as an observer to an enormous amount of information from within numerous economically developed and economically developing communities living in multiple hazardous communities.

1. You speak of codes of practice and the development of the construction methods which you suggest makes the reliance upon or indeed use of doorways and openings with lintels obsolete and infact incorrect.
A. may i add that within Asia in most communities we still dont have building codes and indeed the communities live within a variety of indigenous self designed structures using a variety maybe only available materials which often includes a mixture of semi reinforced concrete and adobe. Considering that many buildings and including schools may only contain handfulls of persons, then maybe we should not rule out the use of doorways and linteled openings. Many Schools do not not have desks / tables either. Within the Rescue community as we enter colapsed or collapsing buildings during aftershock periods, we are constantly looking for save havens. a framed lintelled opening remains high on our list. However i do not discount your comments for use within California or other code developed communities.

2. You have quite strongly discounted the suggested 'triangle of life' theory in support of DCH. A. I have always tended to work by a degree of common sense. The triangle of life in theory makes sense. Indeed i have been suggesting for several years that the triangle of life, or as i phrase it, safe havens are built into indigenous constructions. From experience within the rescue environment, i have learnt that victims survive in a variety of scenarios.Much time has been given to studying victim tracking within collapsed buildings. Patterns have emerged. and for a better phrase the 'triangle of life' reoccurs, and -*is* potentially identifiable prior to a collapse within certain types of construction and dependent on the type of collapse pattern. But more research is required to document this scientifically. So i again ask that we do not discount the theory or indeed its introduction into certain communities. Again i stress that many schools, as i visited Balakot recently and experienced, have no furniture to drop under or to hold to.

In summing up on these two points only, i would ask that we all consider that there is no perfect practice for all communities living within the numerous types of construction and multiple hazardous environments. From experience of speaking to field workers and from my Rescue Technician training and field experience it has become apparant that we must be open-minded and very carefully assess the community before we decide upon the advice we give. This is a long haul within DRR Education and practice. There are no perfect solutions. There are not simple right and wrongs. We need to work together, adapt and encourage, integrate and develop techniques and theories. If we allow ourselves to be able to do this then we potentially can save many more lives within this diverse world of ours. Again can i commend you for the tremendous information contained within your email for consideration.

Garry de la Pomerai

threecentsworth said...

and Ana-Marie replies:

Dear Gary,

Thanks very much for your kind and thoughtful comments on my posting, and thanks for your wise food for thought. I prefaced my comments with the disclaimer that the information below was written for the audiences in the United States, specifically because I don't believe one-size-fits-all. At CARD, we stand for all people having the correct information they need to be
safe and whole; for that information to be shared in sustainable, culturally appropriate ways -- by messengers chosen by the community. Our biggest rule is to share information without using fear or threat to "motivate" action.

There is one clarification I would like to offer. You wrote "You have quite strongly discounted the suggested 'triangle of life' theory in support of DCH." I do not discount 'triangle of life' in support of DCH. I believe 'triangle of life' to be dangerous and inappropriate advice for United
States audiences. Safety and preparedness advice should fit the threat, the community, the place, and the people it is intended to serve. I STRONGLY object to how the 'triangle of life' email is specifically written to discredit DCH.

As I noted in my posting, DCH has great value for much more than just
earthquakes. Given our codes, our research, and the typical contents of US buildings, I believe many more people in the US will be injured if they follow the 'triangle of life' advice in a major earthquake, AND they will
miss the various protections DCH offers in other situations, if they forsake learning and practicing DCH in favor of 'triangle of life.'

These methods should never have been positioned against each other the way they were in the 'triangle of life' email.

For the record: from what you have described, I think you have shared the 'safe haven' model in ways which will likely save lives in your community. The way 'triangle of life' has been shared in the US may cost us lives.

Thank you for the richness of this discussion. With much appreciation,