Triangle of Life: Earthquake Tips

Might I Add: As a pre-statement, before you read this post, I want you to know that this article was written by someone else. I am not advocating that it is the only way to avoid danger during an earthquake, but I certainly think it is important to be aware of all possible actions to take to keep yourself safe. Keep your Intuitive Abilities sharp, so you can use them when in a dangerous situation. Please read an expanded version of this thought here:
New Post — Triangle of Life, Earthquakes, and Your Intuition

In light of the earthquake in New Zealand and Japan, we should be aware of the escape route when earthquake happens.

Save your life with “The Triangle of Life”

If you live in an area that does not normally have earthquakes, then you should read this whole article and share it with your children, friends and family.

“Triangle of Life”:  Simply by looking at the following self-explanatory photos, you can learn more than in a thousand words about how to protect yourself during a major earthquake. In light of the earthquake in New Zealand and Japan, we should be aware of the escape route when earthquake happens.

Where to Go During an Earthquake

Remember that stuff about hiding under a table or standing in a doorway? Well, forget it! This is a real eye opener. It could save your life someday.


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 for two years, and have worked at every major disaster in the world since 1985, except for simultaneous disasters.

The first building I ever crawled inside of was a school in Mexico City during the 1985 earthquake. Every child was under its 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.

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 – NOT under 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. 

If you are inside a vehicle, come out and sit or lie down next to it. If something falls on the vehicle, it will leave an empty space along the sides. See below:

1) Most everyone who simply ‘ducks and covers’ when building collapse are crushed to death. People who get under objects, like desks or cars, are crushed.

2) Cats, dogs and babies often naturally 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 bed, 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. 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 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) Most everyone 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 – 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 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. 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. 

Spread the word and save someone’s life… The entire world is experiencing natural calamities so be prepared! ‘We are but angels with one wing, it takes two to fly.’

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.

American Rescue Team Internationalis said to be the World’s most experienced rescue team and disaster management-mitigation organization.

 I’d like to thank my sister-in-law for sending this email forward to me. Living in the mid-west, we are always taught what to do for tornadoes and floods. But this is new and timely information. Thanks Dominique!

74 thoughts on “Triangle of Life: Earthquake Tips

  1. Hi Melissa –

    I am just browsing your blog after reading your amazing post about children seeing sparkles. I just wanted to let you know that I too received this email a while back and came to learn that the information in here is not actually totally accurate. Check out snopes on this.
    I thought you would want to know – they list other sites that have the best earthquake safety information which is so important to know.


    1. Yes… I have seen that the information is for another country, and another type of building/code. But somehow, it just feels right to roll off the bed in the middle of the night to be clear of breaking glass, etc. It still will probably be my first response. I find it interesting there are no public service announcements about earthquake safety response for the public in the mid west area. But this article made me think about what i would do in that case, according to where I was located.

      Thanks Emily!

    1. My Linkedin profile:

      saving lives, reducing suffering.

      “You must not only be good. You must be wise and wise enough to know who is good.” doug copp

      Sometimes it is NOT enough to do good things must be strong enough to endure the attack…that will follow; especially if you are trying to place children’s lives ahead of USA Insurance Company Profits…crawling inside of 896 collapsed buildings helped to give me the courage that it takes; especially, considering that I have been sick every single day; since 911.

      FYI: USA Insurance companies oppose my ‘triangle of life’ survival method; because, 90% of the children would survive; instead of 98% dead. This translates into//actuarial tables indicate, survivor’s seeking compensation for trauma (physical or mental) with a net result of diminished shareholder return.

      The insurance Company Executives told us: ” We are in the business of maximizing shareholder return..NOT..saving lives.”

      The USA School Boards have been told by their Insurance Carriers that their policies would be terminated or the premium would become extreme..if the children are allowed to survive, following my method.

      I tried to learn:

      I am responsible for ‘what I do’ and for ‘what I do NOT do’. I am responsible for ‘MY actions’. I am not responsible for what other people do.

      I discovered: that people never regret ‘doing the right thing’. They only regret ‘doing the wrong thing’.

      A life devoid of ‘something worth dying for’, is a life, ‘not worth living’.

      Do all the living you can; while you can. 650,000 people died, at the major disasters I worked at..I have seen things that you cannot imagine.

      For all the persecution, hatred, violence and disgusting behavior that I have endured; in fighting against, evil, greedy bastards who exploited the helpless and preyed upon people..I am glad that I always did ‘the right thing’. I always stood up; many times, by myself; but never alone..

      If you can’t be YOURSELF then who can you be?

      1. Thanks Doug for voicing into this discussion. I appreciate your time and experience. I think it is important for us to know everything there is to keep ourselves safe. Blessings…M/

  2. thank you for this….we just had a very recent big earthquake here in the Philippines, in Visayas region where so many people were killed and lots of buildings and old churches collapse…..I will share this…Thanks again.

  3. Thanks so much melissa for sharing this very relevant information im from the philippines and we’ve just experience a very traumatic earthquake in visayas and i promise to share this important tips to all.thanks!

  4. Thank you so much for this life-saving tips! As you may already know, my country, the Philippines, has recently experienced a massive, deadly quake that killed hundreds of people and destroyed infrastructures including livelihood. Will share this to all. Bless your heart.

  5. This is a timely information about safety precautions during earthquake of which we have recently hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in the Philippines in the regions of Bohol, Cebu, Negros, Panay and other parts of Mindanao where 92 people are dead.

  6. Apparently, this method is more suited in places where the building construction standards are less developed. Statistically speaking, in buildings that are well built, you are more likely to be killed or injured by falling objects. You won’t be protected from such objects when you beside your bed as opposed to under it. However, it is plausible that you will be more protected on the side of the bed when a total collapse of the building occurs.

  7. In times of emergency and life is at stake, there is no price for survival!. . Do everything possible to protect life most . . . never to let go of “presence of mind!”

  8. This was forwarded to me by my sis in law after we experience yesterday’s 7.2 earthquake in Cebu,Philippines, very helpful, practical and life saver tip will defintely keep this in mind and spread this to my

  9. I’ve read about the triangle of life years ago, but never saw it actually illustrated and proven. Great article. The only thing is, while in a car, say during the Loma Prieta earthquake and collapse of the Nimitz freeway, a lot of people didn’t even recognize that an earthquake was happening. Some thought their tires got punctured, which could also have led to a delay in getting out of the car and laying next to it. Awareness is key!

  10. Sir Thank you very much its a very informative to us living in the pacific ring of fire ,Philippines i’m gonna spread this information so as to inform other of what to do in case of a great earthquake again thank you and God Blessed you

  11. Thankyou so much for this life saving information… the very helpful , practical and life saver tip will definitely keep this in mind. God Bless us !

  12. tnx its a great help for us,weve been hit in 1990 killer quake here in baguio city phil,often times we feel after shocks,tnx god bless

  13. Hi Melissa… for me this is an awesome information. I wish I learn this earlier. Two days ago a horrifying earthquake hit my home province of Bohol and also Cebu Philippines. So many people lost their lives. I wish the Red Cross or Medical people will visit to the remote Barrios and baranggays to educate this people for any disaster survival. Before I don’t have any idea what it means by CPR. I shared to my fellow Filipinos the things that I learned here in US. Our Philippine Health and Safety Organization did not given us any advice, did’nt given us any safety precautions, . Thank you for this. I will pass this information to anyone especially to my family. God Bless

  14. The picture says it PERFECTLY!!! If I’m in that area and an earthquake hit, I’d rather be under that table than anywhere around it and hoping that a void would be made where you are… Look at all the debris around the table and the NICE RECTANGULAR SPACE under that table that was SURE there even before the structure collapsed!!! BE SURE SE SAFE =)

    1. I’m looking at that same picture, and I believe the only reason that table did not collapse is that the fall of the ceiling was stopped by the crushed wardrobe next to it. The table was, in fact, saved by being in the “triangle” crated by the wardrobe.

    2. I disagree. Yes, the space under the table turned out to be safe, but this is an unusual table. It looks very strong and made out of metal. It has 8 short legs. If the legs broke you’d still be safe. But a typical student’s desk or a family’s dinner table? Those would have been crushed.

      Even though the triangle of life makes sense to me, it is true that it’s hard to predict where the safe space will be. If someone chose the space between the desk and the cabinet, they might have been squeezed by the cabinet which bulged out at the bottom. It also looks like the cabinet nearly fell out of the building before it got crushed. So, the Red Cross is correct in saying things will move around, along witht he triangle.

      I think someone has to make a very fast, smart judgment and keep a cool head. Duck and cover sounds good for a small to medium earthquake if the building is strong, where the main risk will be from falling mirrors, etc. But if the earthquake is extremely big, then I would go for triangle of life. I think the reason triangle of life is getting shot down by Red Cross is that they want to teach just one thing; they don’t think people can be smart in an earthquake and decide intelligently between the two methods. Red Cross is more concerned with statistics. A few people crushed in a pancaked building or freeway? No big deal. They’re more concerned with the thousands of injuries from glass, etc.

  15. thank you very2x much for the humanitarian and very important reminders to all…this is a very important life saving information….GOD bless us all…..

  16. Thank you for the tips but remember presence of mind is still important and be ready and don’t panic, like they say go with the waves don’t fight it.

  17. I’m in structural engineering and have gone through earthquake-damaged buildings in Chile and New Zealand. I don’t disagree with all of this post, but with enough that I’d like leave some thoughts here.

    First, I don’t agree with going into the fetal position if that puts you on your side. You’re more likely to be hit by flying objects than crushed by a building, and that’s why we recommend that you curl up with your back facing up and your hands on your neck.

    The ONLY time you should try to leave your building is if it’s made out of mud or adobe (maybe also if you’re in the ground floor of a soft-story apartment in suburban area, now that I think about it). In most places, especially urban areas, the sidewalks are much more dangerous – run indoors when an earthquake hits! It’s more common for a building to lose its façade outward than to collapse completely. Cornices and even individual bricks can come off a building and travel quite far horizontally (~1.5x the height they came from in Christchurch, NZ), and they can kill.

    The triangle of life advice mostly applies in brick and some older concrete buildings (in the US, those built before 1980). My advice would be to hug a column, with a beam right over you. Don’t get too close to the perimeter, due to the glass and cladding that could fall inward. Building collapses are still not the norm even in these buildings, so you have to protect yourself from the less-catastrophic but more common dangers of flying objects as well.

    In most other building types, those flying objects will be much more likely threats to your life than a building collapse. Just drop and cover under a table. In the US you’ll probably be in one of these lower-risk buildings, which is why teach drop-and-cover. In developing countries you’re more likely to be in a relatively fragile concrete building, so maybe the paragraph above is more applicable. But there isn’t really one simple solution to the different risks present.

  18. The insights are helpful. Let’s try our best to survive. But we can never really tell when is our time. Let’s rather be thankful everyday for the life given to us and make use of the limited time we have for goodness sake, leaving good footprints or memories of us.

  19. Sir This informations are all very helpful thanks. We need proven actions, and the information given here makes sense.

  20. I am in Cebu when the quake happen 10.16.13 I was the last to get out of the building for everybody rush to the exit causing some minor injuries…its nice if everybody will remember these insights of yours during a quake.. but what i have come to realize is people will rush to the exit (doors) in a quake…

  21. I am a teacher in one of the islands in the northern part of Cebu province. I will really pass this information to my students, friends, neighbors and co teachers so they could advice their pupils on what to do if an earthquake occurs like what we have experiencing now.

  22. Good effort to serve the humanity.We will keep in mind the tips and try to spread them out to the maximum number of families.

  23. So the truth is.. what was ordinarily thought safe measures during an earthquake was the reverse. This article is very informative. I hope this safety measures will be thought in schools, hotels office and even to all families in the community. Worth sharing.

    1. Hi Miriam~ I want to make clear that all safety measures are good, depending on where you live and the circumstances that are brought to bear. Knowing all the options is what I think is important. and that is why I reposted this article in the first place. Information is critical. Blessings…M/

  24. I will surely share this with everyone I know …it really make sense….thank you very much.

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