Earthquake Survival: The ‘Triangle of Life’

Since the region is still experiencing aftershocks, I received this extract in the mail and thought it provided extremely valuable earthquake survival tips- particularly since it debunks most of the protection tips that we all believe are safest. This is worth a look.

Edited by Larry Linn for MAA Safety Committee brief on 4/13/04.

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

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

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 w ould 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.”

The first building I ever crawled inside of was a school in Mexico City during the 1985 earthquake. Every child was under their 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 and I wondered why the children were not in the aisles. I didn’t at the time know that the children were told to hide under something. 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. This space is what I call the “triangle of life”. The larger the object, the stronger, and 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. They are everywhere.


1) Do Not Duck and Cover
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) Triangles Save Lives
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 large bulky object that will compress slightly but leave a void next to it.

3) Wonderful Wood

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) Roll Out of Bed
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) Curl-Up
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) Do Not Stand in Doorways.
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 aw ay 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) Get Outside That Car
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) Choose a Void
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!

11 Comments so far

  1. maleeha (unregistered) on October 19th, 2005 @ 9:25 pm

    I just came online to post the very same article, but I’m glad you did it first. Thanks for posting :)

  2. mina (unregistered) on October 19th, 2005 @ 10:54 pm

    :) thank you for thinking of it too!

  3. Haroon (unregistered) on October 19th, 2005 @ 11:39 pm

    very informative and makes scientific sense.

  4. mohummed (unregistered) on October 20th, 2005 @ 10:52 am

    Very informative & scientifically proved!
    Thanx 4 sharing with us.

  5. Jonathan Vos Post (unregistered) on November 8th, 2005 @ 8:39 am

    A lawyer friend of mine named Pam’s commented to me as follows: on Saturday, October 15, Tom (a mutual friend) and I attended a forum on disaster preparedness, hosted by our Congressman, Adam Schiff, and kicked off with a presentation by Dr. Lucy Jones, seismologist and scientist-in-charge of the USGS earthquake info center at Caltech.

    She concluded her Powerpoint presentation with a comment about the so-called “triangle of life” — and said it is “total nonsense.” The safest place to be, in a quake, is under a large, sturdy table. After the talk, we talked about this urban legend, and she said the author of it had been checked out, and some of his claims are downright lies. So, Tom decided to check further. Below is a relevant article. Personally, I would take Lucy Jones’ word for it!

    * * * *

    I reproduce only a snippit of the story linked to, as I respect copyright.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2004

    ‘Knucklehead’ or Hero?

    ++A 9/11 PHONY Part four in a four-day series Earlier this year, Doug Copp was awarded $649,000, tax free, from the fund set up to compensate victims of 9/11. He says it’s not enough. But it’s doubtful he deserves anything. A Journal investigation found no evidence Copp did real rescue work in New York. But his claims of valor were typical for this self-proclaimed rescue guru.

    See column at right for links to all stories in this series

    By Leslie Linthicum

    Journal Staff Writer

    Doug Copp is the most experienced rescue professional in the entire world. He has been to more than 100 disasters, crawled through 894 collapsed buildings and saved 125,000 people.

    He has been in 50,000 newspapers. He was appointed by the United Nations as its expert in disaster mitigation. He treated several hundred children for skin disease in Venezuela. He saved India from the plague.


    Just ask him.

    Copp, 52, has been telling his tales of daring exploits for nearly 20 years. At the center is always Copp figuring out a puzzle no one else could solve, going where no one else dared to go, enduring hardship and making big things happen.

    But many of his stories don’t stand up to scrutiny, including this example from sworn deposition testimony in a California lawsuit in the 1990s:

    Copp boasted many times about his association with the United Nations and its Disaster Relief Office. He said on his resume that his code was “UNX051” and he was tapped by the U.N. as its expert in disaster mitigation.

    He said Philippe Boulle, the U.N.’s disaster relief coordinator in New York, asked him to advise the U.N. and directed him to respond to Hurricane Gilbert in 1986.

    Boulle, who went on to direct the U.N.’s International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, said in a sworn affidavit that Copp’s claim to be a United Nations expert was “completely false” and that he never asked Copp to go to the hurricane.

    “UNX051” was an e-mail address for a subscriber to the U.N.’s public information network, Boulle said.

    “It is my opinion,” BoullĂ© said, “that Douglas Copp has fraudulently misrepresented himself regarding the United Nations.”

    MARK GHILARDUCCI: consultant in California.

    Ghilarducci, a former emergency services official in California and with FEMA, has tracked Doug Copp’s claims to have been part of rescue efforts at earthquakes in California and Japan and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and found them exaggerated.

    He said Copp’s pattern is to take pictures of himself at disasters and overstate his role in the rescue.

    “There’s something of an ambulance chaser to this guy,” Ghilarducci said.

    All content copyright

  6. Irfan (unregistered) on November 14th, 2005 @ 1:05 pm

    Everything i read in this article was new to me. So thanks alot pal.

  7. Irfan (unregistered) on November 14th, 2005 @ 1:16 pm

    It really doesnt matter who the man is. What really matters is what he says saves lives…..

  8. Bob (unregistered) on November 15th, 2005 @ 1:27 am

    No reputable emergency management or disaster services agency will endorse Mr Copp’s misguided theories.

    Granted, if you live in a Third World country, you may want to consider his “triangle of life”. But no one in any developed country should follow his guidance. To do so is simply foolishness.

    Investigate on your own and you’ll agree.

  9. Adrienne (unregistered) on November 21st, 2005 @ 12:01 am

    Be careful at taking anything at face value however much good sense it might make. I typed in “Triangle of Life” in google search and came up with another site saying the writer is in fact being investigated by fraud office!

  10. Andy (unregistered) on December 9th, 2005 @ 10:43 pm

    Actually, the letter from Mr. Copp has been pretty thoroughly debunked…. e.g.

  11. Andy (unregistered) on December 9th, 2005 @ 10:44 pm

    (sorry it didn’t post the URL).

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