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New Method of Quake Protection Has Experts Debating

New Method of Quake Protection Has Experts Debating

Posted - Dec. 20, 2004 at 10:50 a.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Surviving earthquakes is a real skill in Utah, where the vast majority of the state's population lives along one of the nation's major fault lines.

A major temblor, scientists say, would cause catastrophic damage across the Wasatch Front.

People in such areas are taught to "duck, cover and hold." In Utah, schoolchildren are drilled several times a year in hopes that ducking under a sturdy object such as a desk and holding on becomes second nature when the earth moves.

State emergency officials insist it's the best technique for surviving a quake. But a new technique called the "triangle of life" is gaining momentum.

The technique encourages people to curl up next to large objects such as furniture or appliances where voids, or small spaces, can be created when ceilings collapse.

The idea is that such voids, or triangles, create enough space for people to survive when ceilings collapse and land on top of desks or tables. The weight of the ceilings crushes desks and tables, and possibly the people beneath them.

But people who are next to desks, tables or even beds are in the "triangles of life" and survive, according to the idea espoused by Doug Copp, the executive director of American Rescue Team, on his Web site.

Copp, a controversial figure who's been profiled and criticized extensively in New Mexico, claims to have helped rescue people in disasters all over the world. In an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News, Copp stated he has crawled into 894 collapsed buildings.

Bob Carey, the earthquake program manager for the Utah Division of Emergency Services, acknowledges that such voids can exist.

But the technique doesn't help those in the United States, where generally buildings don't fully collapse because building codes are stricter than elsewhere.

Few quakes even reach a Magnitude 7, the size capable of major and widespread damage. The majority of earthquakes are small.

"Structural collapse in the United States is a rare event. It gets a lot of attention in the media, but it's a rare event," Carey said. "If I'm in a Third World country, I'd probably take his advice. Not in the United States."

People in the United States need to worry more about objects falling over or bouncing around within the building, such as light fixtures, books and bookcases.

When people duck, cover and hold, they are more likely to be protected from injuries from flying and falling objects. The triangle of life doesn't address that problem, Carey said.

Copp disagrees and says he believes thousands of people die from using the drop, cover and hold method.

"Objects do not fly," Copp wrote in the e-mail. "They fall over. ... Regarding light bulbs and books, it is like using a shotgun to kill a mosquito that has landed on your arm. It is crazy to protect yourself from books by getting yourself squashed."

The triangle of life technique has circled the Internet for months. "Fifteen people send this on to 15 other people, who send it on to 15 other people. It's like a disease. It's an epidemic," Carey said.

The Utah Seismic Safety Commission released a public statement in October emphasizing the importance of drop, cover and hold because officials were getting calls and e-mail from school administrators and local emergency officials asking if they should abandon it for the triangle of life.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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