A Doorway Isn’t Safest During An Earthquake

By Debra Kelly on Wednesday, December 18, 2013
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“Earthquakes bring out the worst in some people.” —Sgt. Lew Slade, Earthquake (1974)

In A Nutshell

In times of disaster, the myth you hear the most might be the first thing that comes to a panicked mind. Unfortunately, it’s still a myth. We’ve all heard that a doorway is the safest place to be during an earthquake, as it lessens the chance of being hit by something falling. Unless you’re an adobe structure with no reinforcement (and you’re probably not), this is complete myth. In most houses, a doorway is no stronger than the rest of the house, and it exposes you to falling and flying objects.

The Whole Bushel

In most cases, a doorway isn’t a safe place to stand during an earthquake. Most interior doorways aren’t constructed to withstand the impacts of an earthquake, and they also leave you vulnerable to either side.

The most common cause of injury and death during an earthquake is from objects falling around you, and a doorway isn’t going to protect you from that. (And if there’s a door in the door frame, you are going to get hit with it.)

This common misconception is one of the many examples of a belief that’s not just wrong, but dangerous as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, standing in a doorway during an earthquake is on the list of things to definitely not do. In most modern homes, a doorway is no more reinforced than any other part of the house. And if you’re in a public place, it’s likely that this instinct could get you trampled.

It’s much the same reason that you don’t want to be beneath an underpass during an earthquake. It’s not going to protect you, and if you’re beneath an underpass you run the risk of being a target for falling stonework or construction materials.

So what is the safest place in the home?

Both the CDC and the California Department of Conservation say that if you’re inside, the safest place to be is underneath a desk or table. Since falling and flying objects present the biggest danger, it’s the best form of protection. Being on the ground will also keep you from falling, an important bit of information to make note of, especially for those who may already be unsteady on their feet.

They also specify to stay away from sources of breaking glass, such as china cabinets, entertainment centers, and mirrors. Glass objects are often the first things to fall and break during an earthquake, and that’s where another danger of the doorway myth comes in. The CDC says that if an earthquake hits at night while you’re in bed, you’re better off staying there than trying to get to the mythological safety of a doorway. The hazards between the bed and the door—in addition to the little protection it actually affords—aren’t worth the risk.

Standing against a wall away from shelves and other things that might fall is also safer than standing in a doorway, as the wall provides protection from at least one side. And in most cases, it’s safer to be kneeling or laying on the ground than standing, to prevent falls. Inside corners provide the most protection, and it’s always recommended to find something like a pillow to cover your head and face with.

And if you’re already outdoors, the safest place to be is—still—away from buildings that have the potential to fall. Besides, the chances of a giant hole opening in the Earth’s crust to swallow you have got to be really low . . . right?

Show Me The Proof

FEMA: Earthquakes
California Department of Conservation: Earthquake Myths
CDC: During an Earthquake—Indoor Safety