Triangle of Life Strategy Flawed

In the wake of recent earthquakes, you may have come across a theory on the internet titled “Triangle of Life: Ten Tips on Surviving a Building Collapse"; presumably providing tips on how to protect your life in the event of an earthquake.  The person who promoted this “theory” urged the public to renounce the currently accepted strategy of “duck, cover, and hold”, and instead suggested curling up next to a table or a piece of furniture in the event of an earthquake, claiming that one would be safer to do so.  On October 6, 2004, SEAOC prepared a position statement, aimed to educate the general public about the flaws of this promoted theory.  The statement is reproduced below. Please do not advocate this theory; rather share the flaws of this theory with friends and family.

"Triangle of Life" Earthquake Survival Strategy Flawed - October 6, 2004

Sacramento, CA — The Structural Engineers Association of California (SEAOC) has recently learned of the “Triangle of Life” theory and Ten Tips on Surviving a Building Collapse put forth by Doug Copp which has been circulating via the internet. The theory assumes complete building collapse and rather than the currently accepted survival strategy of “duck and cover” under a substantial object like a desk or bed, it calls for curling up next to the object which, when it compresses under the weight of the collapse, will form a triangular survival void around it. However, this theory does not appropriately address the typical earthquake hazard that exists in the United States. The duck and cover protection approach was developed to protect occupants from falling hazards. The greatest danger to the U.S. population in the event of an earthquake is injury from falling hazards such as bookshelves, filing cabinets, chimneys, portions of ceilings, exterior facades, and window glass; not overall building collapse. Following Mr. Copp’s tips puts one in greater danger from these falling hazards. And, in the rare occasions that buildings do collapse during an earthquake in the United States, survivable voids do not necessarily fit the descriptions presented by Mr. Copp.

Members of SEAOC have been writing earthquake building codes, designing structures that resist earthquake forces, and investigating earthquake damage worldwide since the 1930’s. We believe that the “Triangle of Life” theory of surviving a building collapse instills a false sense of security and may subject the public to unnecessary harm and injury.

In SEAOC’s considered opinion, the duck and cover strategy still represents the best way to protect one’s self in an earthquake. We highly recommend visiting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website and the State of California Office of Emergency Service’s website for detailed information on avoiding injury in an earthquake.

The Structural Engineers Association of California is a nonprofit organization of nearly 4000 members dedicated to advancing the structural engineering profession, protecting public safety in the built environment, and serving the business and professional needs of the membership.