Triangle of Life myth

Once again today, an email arrived in my inbox talking about the “Triangle of Life.” This is a theory about how to best survive an earthquake, developed by Doug Copp.

Taken from the Wikipedia entry, here is a description of the theory:

According to Copp’s theory, when buildings collapse, the weight of the ceilings falling upon the objects or furniture inside tends to crush them, but the height of the object that remains acts as a kind of roof beam over the space or void next to it, which will tend to end up with a sloping roof over it. Copp terms this space for survival as the triangle of life. The larger and stronger the object, the less it will compact; the less it compacts, the larger the void next to it will be. Such triangles are the most common shape to be found in a collapsed building.

Sounds pretty good, right? Seems to make sense?

The problem is it doesn’t hold up to reality checks. First, the theory is predicated upon buildings “pancaking” during an earthquake. While this does happen in some areas, building codes here in the United States are such that buildings don’t really do it all that often here. Further, the theory assumes these objects and furniture won’t be sliding around during an earthquake, which of course is not true.

Most injuries and deaths in an earthquake here in the US are the result of falling objects, not building collapse. If you are caught in a quake, you should “Drop, cover, and hold on.” Hit the floor, get under something sturdy, and hold on. Experts used to advocate getting into a doorway however that also has been proven to be a fallacy. In modern structures, doorways are really no stronger than any other part of the dwelling. You’re better off getting under a table to keep debris from hitting you. You’re at greater risk of injury trying to get TO a doorway or find one of these potential “triangles of life.”

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Jim Cobb

Jim Cobb has been a student of survivalism and emergency preparedness for almost thirty years. As a young child, he drove his parents nuts with stockpiling supplies in the basement every time he heard there was a tornado watch in his area. Of course, being a child, those supplies consisted of his teddy bear, a few blankets and pillows, and random canned goods he grabbed from the kitchen cabinets. Later, he was the first (and likely only) child in his fifth grade class to have bought his very own copy of Life After Doomsday by Bruce Clayton. Today, he is a freelance writer whose work has been published in national magazines such as Boy’s Life and Complete Survivalist Magazine. He is a voracious reader with a keen interest in all stories with post-apocalyptic settings. He maintains the Library at the End of the World blog and is also the Content Director for He currently resides in a fortified bunker in the upper Midwest, accompanied by his lovely wife and their three adolescent Weapons of Mass Destruction. Jim's first book, Prepper's Home Defense, was published late 2012 and his second book, tentatively titled The Prepper's Complete Guide to Disaster Readiness, will be out in mid-2013, both coming from Ulysses Press.

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