Seismologist Advises What To Do During an Earthquake

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It's been more than a decade since Southern Californians have had to practice their earthquake skills. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde sat down with Lucy Jones, of the US Geological Survey, to review what it is we're supposed to do next time the earth starts to shake. Here's a clue: Don't try to run out of the building.

Kitty Felde: So the big debate – when the earth starts shaking, when I was growing up, we were told to go under the doorway. And then it was under the desk. What's the current best advice you have today?

Lucy Jones: Absolutely go under the desk. Let's look a little bit about the choices.

Go to the doorway: A Red Cross worker in 1952 earthquake saw a collapsed adobe house with the door frame still standing and said "Wow, that looks like a safe place to be," and so the Red Cross starting teaching people go to the door. And so if you live in a 200-year-old adobe house, that is a good place to go. Any other house, it's weaker than the rest of the house and probably has a door that's swinging around and probably going to hit you if you try to stand there.

The table, what does it get you? The table protects you from things flying around the room. And one of the things is our buildings are pretty safe now. What we do have to worry though is things within the house. The computers, the microwaves, the televisions literally flying across the room at 35 miles an hour. The table protects you from all of that very, very effectively.

Now, what about if you actually have really bad luck, and you're in one of those few buildings that actually collapses? Well, we have lots of evidence from lots of places around the world that people have been able to maintain void spaces because they were under the tables.

There is a horrid rumor going around called the "triangle of life" that it's somehow supposed to be safer beside the table. If I'm trying to protect myself from something falling on me, do I want to be beside something that stops it or under something that stops it?

Felde: Suppose you don't have a table, you don't have a desk, suppose it happens in the middle of the night. Should you stay in bed?

Jones: I try to make my bed a safe place to be and then I stay there. So I've made sure that it's not under a window that might break on me, I don't have a headboard, I don't put any framed pictures above my head, and then I stay in bed.

Some people have talked about rolling over to beside the bed. If you're in strong enough shaking to actually have your building collapse, you're in strong enough shaking to have your bed fly around the room.

Note: The bottom line, according to Dr. Jones: When the earth starts shaking, drop, cover, and hold. Drop under that desk or table, cover your head, and hold on until the shaking stops.