Kates Seattle Real Estate Blog: The Triangle of Life

The Triangle of Life

earthquake survivalHow to survive an earthquake is not what I learned as a child.  The following are extracts from Doug Copp's article on "The Triangle of Life":

When buildings collapse, the weight of the ceilings 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.


1) Most everyone who simply 'ducks and covers' when buildings 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. 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.

5) Most everyone who gets under a doorway when buildings collapse is killed.  If you stand under a doorway and the door jamb falls forward or backward you will be crushed by the ceiling above.  If the door jamb falls sideways you will be cut in half by the doorway.

6) 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 until structural failure of the stairs takes place.  The people who get on stairs before they fail are chopped up by the stair treads.  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 whne overloaded by fleeing people.  They should always be checkd for safety, even when the rest of the building is not damaged.

earthquake survival7) Get near the outer walls of buildings or outside 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.

8) People inside of the vehicles are crushed when the road above them collapses (San Francisco Nimitz freeway).  They can easily survive by getting out and sitting or lying next to their vehicles.  All of the crushed cars had voids of 3 feet high next to them except the ones that had columns fall directly across them.

9) 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. 


Kate Pedersen

Broker / Realtor ®


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Comment balloon 4 commentsKate Pedersen • April 05 2011 12:52PM


these are some great tips...we have so many places that are effected by huge weather and temp issues...thanks for the post.

Posted by Jeffrey DiMuria 321.223.6253 Waves Realty, Florida Space Coast Homes (Waves Realty) over 9 years ago

Scary but great advice. I can see getting low next to a piece of furniture could actually protect you

Posted by Stanley Stepak, Realtor - Avon Lake, Avon, Bay Village, Westlake, (Howard Hanna - Avon Lake, OH) over 9 years ago

That's an incredible information Kate. Thank you so much for sharing in such details. Hopefully, we will never need to use it.

Posted by Irina Riley, GRI, SFR, CNE, e-PRO, SRES (American Dream Colorado) over 9 years ago

This reminds me of all those school tornado drills we used to have.  Cover your head an hide under your desk or single file lines out of the building.  Man how time flies!!!  Thanks for the flashback

Posted by Lucas Whalen (Stonebridge National Lending) over 9 years ago