Monday, 6 September 2010

"Triangle of Life" by Doug Copp. Read these tips with caution.

LATEST: Christchurch has been shaken by two strong aftershocks within the space of 16 minutes tonight, with further damage reported. Photo: Stuff.

With many aftershocks occuring, people are asking for the best guidance as what to do. My advice is to follow instruction provided by NZ Civil Defence, and not to follow various tips coming from the USA.

Today my daughter who survived the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, sent me and numerous friends, a copy of Doug Copp's Triangle of Life, earthquake tips or guidelines. Doug is a US emergency expert.

At first it looks a good set of guidelines of what to do when an earthquake occurs, but on closer inspection I found some incorrect recommendations.

Experts in the American Red Cross have given a response to "Triangle of Life" by Doug Copp at the end of his guidelines beneath..

So if you have received Doug Copp's guidelines, I suggest you read the analysis by the American Red Cross at the end, in order to get another perspective on this.


My name is Doug Copp. I am the Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of the American Rescue Team International (ARTI), the world's most experienced rescue team. The information in this article will save lives in an earthquake.

I have crawled inside 875 collapsed buildings, worked with rescue teams from 60 countries, founded rescue teams in several countries, and I am a member of many rescue teams from many countries. I was the United Nations expert in Disaster Mitigation (UNX051 -UNIENET) for two years. I have worked at every major disaster in the world since 1985, except for simultaneous disasters.

In 1996 we made a film which proved my survival methodology to be correct. The Turkish Federal Government, City of Istanbul, University of Istanbul, Case Productions and ARTI cooperated to film this practical, scientific test. We collapsed a school and a home with 20 mannequins inside. Ten mannequins did "duck and cover," and ten mannequins I used in my "triangle of life" survival method. After the simulated earthquake collapse we crawled through the rubble and entered the building to film and document the results. The film, in which I practiced my survival techniques under directly observable, scientific conditions, relevant to building collapse, showed there would have been zero percent survival for those doing duck and cover. There would likely have been 100 percent survivability for people using my method of the "triangle of life." This film has been seen by millions of viewers on television in Turkey and the rest of Europe, and it was seen in the USA, Canada and Latin America on the TV program Real TV.

The first building I ever crawled inside of was a school in Mexico City during the 1985 earthquake. Every child was under their desk. Every child was crushed to the thickness of their bones. They could have survived by lying down next to their desks in the aisles. It was obscene, unnecessary and I wondered why the children were not in the aisles. I didn't at the time know that the children were told to hide under something.

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. The next time you watch collapsed buildings, on television, count the "triangles" you see formed. They are everywhere. It is the most common shape, you will see, in a collapsed building. They are everywhere. I trained the Fire Department of Trujillo (population 750,000) in how to survive, take care of their families, and to rescue others in earthquakes.

The chief of rescue in the Trujillo Fire Department is a professor at Trujillo University. He accompanied me everywhere. He gave personal testimony: "My name is Roberto Rosales. I am Chief of Rescue in Trujillo. When I was 11 years old, I was trapped inside of a collapsed building. My entrapment occurred during the earthquake of 1972 that killed 70,000 people. I survived in the "triangle of life" that existed next to my brother's motorcycle. My friends who got under the bed and under desks were crushed to death [he gives more details, names, addresses etc.]...I am the living example of the "triangle of life". My dead friends are the example of "duck and cover".


1) 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.

2) Cats, dogs and babies all naturally often curl up in the fetal position. You should too in an earthquake. It is a natural 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.

3) 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. Brick buildings will break into individual bricks. Bricks will cause many injuries but less squashed bodies than concrete slabs.

4) 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, telling occupants to lie down on the floor, next to the bottom of the bed during an earthquake.

5) 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.

6) Everybody who gets under a doorway when buildings collapse is killed. How? If you stand under a doorway and the doorjamb falls forward or backward you will be crushed by the ceiling above. If the door jam falls sideways you will be cut in half by the doorway. In either case, you will be killed!

7) 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.

8) 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;

9) 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.

10) 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.

Here is the response and analysis sent from Rocky Lopes, PhD
Manager, Community Disaster Education
American Red Cross National Headquarters

Recently it has been brought to my attention that an email from Doug Copp, titled "Triangle of Life," is making its rounds again on the Internet. "Drop, Cover, and Hold On" is CORRECT, accurate, and APPROPRIATE for use in the United States for Earthquake safety. Mr. Copp's assertions in his message that everyone is always crushed if they get under something is incorrect.

Recently, the American Red Cross became aware of a challenge to the earthquake safety advice "Drop, Cover, and Hold On." This is according to information from Mr. Doug Copp, the Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of American Rescue Team International (a private company not affiliated with the U.S. Government or other agency.) He says that going underneath objects during an earthquake [as in children being told to get under their desks at school] is very dangerous, and fatal should the building collapse in a strong earthquake. He also states that "everyone who gets under a doorway when a building collapses is killed." He further states that "if you are in bed when an earthquake happens, to roll out of bed next to it," and he also says that "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." These recommendations are inaccurate for application in the United States and inconsistent with information developed through earthquake research. Mr. Copp based his statements on observations of damage to buildings after an earthquake in Turkey. It is like "apples and oranges" to compare building construction standards, techniques, engineering principles, and construction materials between Turkey and the United States.

We at the American Red Cross have studied the research on the topic of earthquake safety for many years. We have benefited from extensive research done by the California Office of Emergency Services, California Seismic Safety Commission, professional and academic research organizations, and emergency management agencies, who have also studied the recommendation to "drop, cover, and hold on!" during the shaking of an earthquake. Personally, I have also benefited from those who preceded me in doing earthquake education in California since the Field Act was passed in 1933.

What the claims made by Mr. Copp of ARTI, Inc., does not seem to distinguish is that the recommendation to "drop, cover, and hold on!" is a U.S.-based recommendation based on U.S. Building Codes and construction standards. Much research in the United States has confirmed that "Drop, Cover, and Hold On!" has saved lives in the United States. Engineering researchers have demonstrated that very few buildings collapse or "pancake" in the U.S. as they might do in other countries. Using a web site to show one picture of one U.S. building that had a partial collapse after a major quake in an area with thousands of buildings that did not collapse during the same quake is inappropriate and misleading.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which collects data on injuries and deaths from all reportable causes in the U.S., as well as data from three University-based studies performed after the Loma Prieta (September, 1989) and Northridge (January, 1994) earthquakes in California, the following data are indicated: Loma Prieta: 63 deaths, approximately 3,700 people were injured. Most injuries happened as a result of the collapse of the Cypress Street section of I-880 in Oakland. Northridge: 57 deaths, 1,500 serious injuries. Most injuries were from falls caused by people trying to get out of their homes, or serious cuts and broken bones when people ran, barefooted, over broken glass (the earthquake happened in the early morning on a federal holiday when many people were still in bed.) There were millions of people in each of these earthquake-affected areas, and of those millions, many of them reported to have "dropped, covered, and held on" during the shaking of the earthquake.

We contend that "Drop, Cover, and Hold On" indeed SAVED lives, not killed people. Because the research continues to demonstrate that, in the U.S., "Drop, Cover, and Hold On!" works, the American Red Cross remains behind that recommendation. It is the simplest, reliable, and easiest method to teach people, including children.

The American Red Cross has not recommended use of a doorway for earthquake protection for more than a decade. The problem is that many doorways are not built into the structural integrity of a building, and may not offer protection. Also, simply put, doorways are not suitable for more than one person at a time.

The Red Cross, remaining consistent with the information published in "Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard Messages," (visit ) states that if you are in bed when an earthquake happens, remain there. Rolling out of bed may lead to being injured by debris on the floor next to the bed. If you have done a good job of earthquake mitigation (that is, removing pictures or mirrors that could fall on a bed; anchoring tall bedroom furniture to wall studs, and the like), then you are safer to stay in bed rather than roll out of it during the shaking of an earthquake.
Also, the Red Cross strongly advises not try to move (that is, escape) during the shaking of an earthquake. The more and the longer distance that someone tries to move, the more likely they are to become injured by falling or flying debris, or by tripping, falling, or getting cut by damaged floors, walls, and items in the path of escape. Identifying potential "void areas" and planning on using them for earthquake protection is more difficult to teach, and hard to remember for people who are not educated in earthquake engineering principles. The Red Cross is not saying that identifying potential voids is wrong or inappropriate. What we are saying is that "Drop, Cover, and Hold On!" is NOT wrong -- in the United States. The American Red Cross, being a U.S.-based organization, does not extend its recommendations to apply in other countries. What works here may not work elsewhere, so there is no dispute that the "void identification method" or the "Triangle of Life" may indeed be the best thing to teach in other countries where the risk of building collapse, even in moderate earthquakes, is great.


Marja said...

Thanks you very much for this SO we did get the wrong instructions. I will pass this on to the school
Thanks Bob. The after shocks are scary

Marja said...

Sorry I am confused now. Drop and cover is good for America. Dougs one is based on Turkey but what is best for NZ?

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Marja: For New Zealand I would recommend you follow the NZ Civil Defence guidelines. They are specifically for NZ conditions. Doug's tips have generally come from experiences he had in countries where there were poor building codes, or building codes that were not enforced. The American Red Cross suggestions are the best of the two. Stay safe out there.


Mike said...

Hi Bob & Marja. Just for reference, the New Zealand recommendations for "during an earthquake" are given here. In short, it's Drop Cover Hold.

I remember being in primary school 20 years ago, having regular earthquake drills and I remember having the basic reactions hammered into us of getting under things like tables, or doorways. I know the extra strength of doorways has since been discredited, but I bet many people my age and older don't realise that.

I feel confident with what I'd try to do during a big earthquake if I was inside, keeping in mind that there's only so much one can do in the heat of the moment. Walking through Wellington this afternoon, though, I looked around and I honestly didn't know what I should be doing if outside. eg. Half way along The Terrace it's a fairly narrow street surrounded by tall buildings which could be subject to all sorts of things falling off them. The middle of the road's covered in overhanging cables, trolley bus wires if nothing else. Footpaths on either side of the road are coupled with rain shelter appendages made of things like glass that look as if they could easily shatter or fall onto people underneath. I may be quite wrong with my guess-work of the structural engineering -- it was more just my impression.

On a gut reaction in the middle of such a street I think I'd either drop where I was and hope for the best, maybe look for a high wall of a structure without much hanging from it and drop as close to it as possible, or perhaps try to get inside a building if there was one nearby with the theory that it might reduce the chance of being in the way of falling debris over the streets. (Many of these building's lobbies are fairly vacant of decorations and furniture.) I don't know if any of these is an especially smart thing to do. The official recommendation for "outside" is to not move much at all and simply drop and cover and hold, but I didn't know that until I looked it up just now.

It's really only occurred to me that people out on some of these streets during a major earthquake could be screwed. Notwithstanding all the dreadful things that have happened, people in Christchurch were really lucky that it hit at the time it did.

Paul said...

The advice I have read is that it is safer DURING the quake to stay inside a building (protected from glass shards etc)UNLESS you can put a minimum distance of at least twice the height of nearest tall building between you and that tall building. In most cities this is very unlikely to be possible unless you can get to the centre of a park.

Having read the 'disputed' article, what the guy writes does make actually logical sense.

Interesting to see that the main reason for disputing the 'advice', which is based on his experience entering buildings after quakes, is that the building codes are better in the USA than a less developed country. That assumes the codes were followed correctly!

Personally I don't hold with the advice to 'stay in bed', I have told the kids to roll off and under the bed, taking the duvet with them to protect from any potential flying glass. I think the chance of injuring yourself getting down is less than being hit by glass.

Indeed as a result of the article we have re-arranged all our bedrooms so that the beds are closer to an interior wall rather than the exterior walls that they were against.

Living in a rural location in Canterbury we have felt most of the quakes over 4.0 and now when ever we feel an aftershock we just head down the paddock to our tent where we all feel more secure, last night we even slept there!

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Paul, This is a very interesting debate. My advice is to follow the instructions NZ Civil defence are giving. I have been through many earthquakes and worked in big EQ relief operations in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan. Peru, Tajikistan, Indonesia, Uzbekistan so I have a reasonable ammount of experience. Both Doug Copp and the American Red Cross expert have some good points. Having been on a number of EQ rescue missions, people are normally saved because a heavy object next to them takes the brunt of falling debris. A heavy table may collapse, but there might be a foot or two gap at the side of it when it collapses under the weight of falling debris.

Drop, cover, hold seems to be what NZ Civil defence are saying so that's good in my books.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,
just a note on NZs quake experience. Our worst injury was a man pinned in his bed by a fallen chimney and though having extensive injuries and being in a coma he did survive.
Another teenager was thrown with his bed out of the two story house when the wall fell away.
I personally was silly enough to rush down our stairs to get to my son and we stood in the doorway!!My first instinct was my sons safety.
Now i know better to stay put, as i was badly bruised.
I think that with earthquakes there is a lot that is uncontrollable and you can only do the best you can at the time.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comment that Mr. Copps advice makes logical sense.

And, the comment from Bob McKerrow seems to substantiate it, and then offer opposite advice. No wonder people are confused.
"Having been on a number of EQ rescue missions, people are normally saved because a heavy object next to them takes the brunt of falling debris. A heavy table may collapse, but there might be a foot or two gap at the side of it when it collapses under the weight of falling debris.

Drop, cover, hold seems to be what NZ Civil defence are saying so that's good in my books."

All I can say is, I am rolling off of my bed. To hell with American GOVERNMENT agencies and their minions, they only want to kill us anyway...take heed.

Anonymous said...

Having worked in Christchurch on rescue operations, my comment would be that the fatal injuries observed were caused by 2 main problems - 1: Objects falling from facades of buildings - an approximate danger zone of 1-3m surrounding the brick and concrete exteriors and killed numerous people. 2: Interior collapse of large office buildings - In some cases nothing would have allowed those people to have survived -especially in the CTV building as it burned after collapsing. However the last survivor from the PGC building had found a space either under or beside her desk. It seems to me that the best advice is to get beside a well anchored, large and solid object and keep away from large areas of glass. Don't be in too much of a hurry to rush outside in a multi story building with solid or glass facades. Instead wait out the shock then exit asap when the shaking stops. Get away from the building and stick to the middle of the street. In the South Island of NZ, most of our buildings dont go much more than 5-10 stories so we are unlikely to see building collapses that take out whole blocks. (VS the WTC in 911)
Residential areas seem randomly hit depending on liquifaction and new, old, cheap and expensive seemed to be damaged fairly randomly. However my unquantified observation indicated that old 2 story residences were at more risk of total collapse than single story dwellings. (I guess that makes sense as they would have more torque applied to the structure in a side to side movement.)
All academic arguments aside, it is nearly impossible to make an arbitary rule that will save everyone, all the time. After all, if 7 stories of concrete falls on your head, then burns, then gets swamped in water from monsoon buckets...

Bob McKerrow said...

Thanks anonymous written on 19 April 2011.

Some good first hand experience you've passed on there. Thanks.

doug copp said...

It is all about money. Some Corporate Industries want to maximize their profit at the expense of the people.

Government policy can change the course of our planet's future, with the stroke of a pen.

I know 4 WELL FUNDED, anti-life (maximizing profit at the expense of humanity) corporate 'Business Endeavors':

1) cigarette companies addicting and killing people to sell maximise sales.
2) oil companies polluting olur air, water,soil;thereby, causing climate change to maximize profit.
3) chemical companies campaign against environmentally caused illness;suchas, autism; thereby, reducing legal liability and increasing sales.
4) USA Insurance Companies; causing the death of schoolchildren by promoting 'duck and cover'; instead of, the 'triangle of life'. Dead children cost the school board's Insurer. nothing. Survivors cost $35,000 to $1 million each.

I forgive them all but their victims may not be so Christian'. The future looks black, dark and consequential; for these corporate exectutives.

In earthquakes and hurricanes you only need to know 3 words to understand how to survive or die

'under' something that is squashed and you die, 'next to' a large squashed object you survive. and 'leave' to go to some place safe during a hurricane.

stupid people maximize profit. smart people use their own brain and live.

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