The Paly Voice

New earthquake safety method suggests flaws in "duck and cover" procedure

Grant Raffel, Author

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Palo Alto High School administrators plan to discuss the school’s earthquake procedure after hearing of a new theory that challenges the classic “duck and cover” method, but is disputed by the American Red Cross.

Doug Copp, rescue chief and disaster manager of American Rescue Team International, suggests that for optimum protection during an earthquake, people should lie down next to a desk, table or chair instead of utilizing the “duck and cover” procedure, which has been around for almost 60 years.

“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,” Copp says.  “This space is what I call the ‘triangle of life.'”

Copp has worked with earthquake rescue teams from 60 countries and crawled in 875 collapsed buildings.  His extensive experience has led to new recommendations for earthquake safety. 

“The larger the object, the stronger, the less it will compact,” Copp says.  “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 Paly administration caught wind of Copp’s ideas following the recent earthquake in Japan.  The school could adopt Copp’s methods in the future, but will discuss his findings first, according to Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson.

“I think that [Copp’s method] is something that has to be discussed during emergency preparedness meetings,” Berkson said.  “I wouldn’t say it’s something we’re going to jump to, because who knows if it’s even true?” 

Berkson added that this decision would not be only up to Paly, but the district as a whole.

“It is not something we’re going to change into right away,” he said.

Although Copp’s findings seem to employ common sense, the American Red Cross disputes the validity of his ideas.

“These recommendations are inaccurate for application in the United States and inconsistent with information developed through earthquake research,” said Rocky Lopes, Ph.D. and Manager of Community Disaster Education for the American Red Cross. 

According to Lopes, earthquake safety procedures differ drastically between countries because they may have different building codes and procedures.

“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.”

Facing conflicting claims by Copp and the American Red Cross, the Paly administration will take its time to find out more about Copp’s research before it implements any new procedures into Paly’s earthquake plan, Berkson said.


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