This is the testimony of Doug Copp, Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of the American Rescue Team International (ARTI) and United Nations expert in Disaster Mitigation (UNX051 – UNIENET).
Since 1985 he has worked in every great disaster worldwide. These are his words, with which he puts forward a new theory for survival in the event of an earthquake:
“Simply stated, when buildings collapse, the weight of the ceilings falling upon the objects or furniture inside crushes these objects, leaving a space or void next to them. This space is what I call the “triangle of life“. The larger the object, the stronger, the less it will compact. The less the object compacts, the larger the void, the greater the probability that the person who is using this void for safety will not be injured.
Everyone who simply “ducks and covers” when buildings collapse is crushed to death — Every time, without exception. People who get under objects, like desks or cars, are always crushed.
Cats, dogs and babies all naturally often curl up in the fetal position. You should too in an earthquake. It is a safety/survival instinct. You can survive in a smaller void. Get next to an object, next to a sofa, next to a large bulky object that will compress slightly but leave a void next to it.
Wooden buildings are the safest type of construction to be in during an earthquake. The reason is simple: the wood is flexible and moves with the force of the earthquake. If the wooden building does collapse, large survival voids are created. Also, the wooden building has less concentrated, crushing weight.
If you are in bed during the night and an earthquake occurs, simply roll off the bed. A safe void will exist around the bed. Hotels can achieve a much greater survival rate in earthquakes, simply by posting a sign on the back of the door of every room, occupants to lie down on the floor, next to the bottom of the bed during an earthquake.
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.
Never go to the stairs. The stairs have a different “moment of frequency” (they swing separately from the main part of the building). The stairs and remainder of the building continuously bump into each other until structural failure of the stairs takes place. The people who get on stairs before they fail are chopped up by the stair treads. They are horribly mutilated. Even if the building doesn’t collapse, stay away from the stairs. The stairs are a likely part of the building to be damaged. Even if the stairs are not collapsed by the earthquake, they may collapse later when overloaded by screaming, fleeing people. They should always be checked for safety, even when the rest of the building is not damaged.
Get near the outer walls of buildings or outside of them if possible – It is much better to be near the outside of the building rather than the interior. The farther inside you are from the outside perimeter of the building the greater the probability that your escape route will be blocked.
People inside of their vehicles are crushed when the road above falls in an earthquake and crushes their vehicles; which is exactly what happened with the slabs between the decks of the Nimitz Freeway. The victims of the San Francisco earthquake all stayed inside of their vehicles. They were all killed. They could have easily survived by getting out and sitting or lying next to their vehicles, says the author. Everyone killed would have survived if they had been able to get out of their cars and sit or lie next to them. All the crushed cars had voids 3 feet high next to them, except for the cars that had columns fall directly across them.
I discovered, while crawling inside of collapsed newspaper offices and other offices with a lot of paper, that paper does not compact. Large voids are found surrounding stacks of paper.
These details come from an interview with Doug Copp, who we thank for his time and willingness to speak.