Earthquake Safety: Stand In A Doorway?

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday's earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday’s earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

I don’t like earthquakes, yet I live in quake country. It’s a paradox.

To mitigate my worry, I err on the side of preparedness. But this post is not to lecture you about creating an earthquake kit (although it’s not hard to do). It’s to let you know what to do the moment the shaking starts.

And it’s to tell you what not to do.

Folks, when the shaking starts, do not head to the nearest doorway. I cannot stress this enough: Do not stand in a doorway.

I always thought the doorway was safe, too — until I heard years ago that this is a myth. The idea of the safety of the doorway goes back to the 19th century. Back then in California, lots of homes were built of adobe. The only wood in the house was the wood-framed door. In a major quake, the adobe crumbled. The only thing left standing? The wood framing of the door.

If you are presently living in a 19th century adobe home, you may stand in your doorway.

Otherwise, here’s what you do:

1. Drop, cover and hold on.

In an earthquake, things fall over, move around and generally fling off shelves. These moving or falling objects can hurt you. Standing in a doorway does not protect you. In addition to stuff flying around, the door will swing back and forth, perhaps violently. The door may strike you, or your fingers may be pinched badly, if you have them jammed in the frame to brace yourself. The door could also fall down, as you see in the photo above.

Instead, if you are dropped, covered and holding on, those things flying around are less likely to hurt you. You drop to your knees, so the quake can’t knock you down. You cover under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture to protect yourself from falling objects. You hold on, so your protection moves with you.

[Related: How Will Your Hospital Fare in the Next Earthquake?]

2. If you’re inside, stay inside.

This is a hard one. But you don’t want to go outside in the middle of the shaking — because even more stuff is likely falling over outside, like bricks, power lines, all kinds of stuff that can really hurt you.

3. If you’re in bed, stay in bed (unless you have a heavy light fixture or other heavy object over your bed). Protect yourself with your pillow.

4. If you’re outside, try to move to the open. Move away from buildings and power lines.

5. If you’re in your car, stop as quickly and safely as you can and stay in your vehicle. Do not stop under or on bridges, overpasses or trees.

There’s much more I could say. But I’ll leave it with this: Look around in your home and at work. Think where you could duck, cover and hold on.

I compiled this post from my own earthquake obsessions, verified by information from ready.gov (brought to you by FEMA). If you visit the site, scroll down to the helpful tabs that say “before, during, after” to learn more about being, well, ready. California’s Department of Conservation also has a good fact sheet on being prepared. The United States Geological Survey has a fun read about earthquake facts and earthquake fantasy.

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  • Lindsey Watson

    Everyone needs to be prepared and make sure to keep an earthquake kit in ones homes, cars, and offices. Water, Food, Good Shoes, and several hundreds dollar cash are just a few essentials. I put together my own kit years ago that I update once a year, throwing out expired items.
    If you don’t want to build a kit yourself, I recommend checking out this company Preppi.
    http://www.preppi.co
    They make awesome earthquake kits with everything you need for 72-hours after a quake!
    Either way, everyone should heed warning – get a kit and a plan together !!

  • mike G

    This article is not even thorough. Latest recommendation for us folks out here in California has to do with protectable space. For example- if in bed do NOT stay in bed, roll out and cover your head and stay RIGHT NEXT TO THE BED. If the cieling collapses it is your best bet to survive- not only will big objects deflect falling debris but in a collapse there will be a small amount of space under the pile next to a bed or couch. Hopefully enough space to provide you enough oxygen until you are rescued (not to mention you not being directly buried in the debris).

    • Robert

      This is the “Triangle of Life” myth, and it’s not what is currently recommended. The people writing the articles are aware of this. I would follow what they say.

    • http://gynostar.com Rebecca “Gyno-Star” Cohen

      As Robert said the triangle thing has been debunked. It’s extremely unlikely that your ceiling will collapse.

    • Lisa Galligan

      On both sides of my bed are dressers. The likelihood of the dresser falling on top of me is roughly 10000000 (add a few more zeros too I think) times more likely than the roof collapsing. So going to go with a “no” for that. I would think “most” people have some sort of dresser or bookshelf close enough to a bed to be more dangerous than not.

      • http://blogs.kqed.org/stateofhealth Lisa Aliferis, KQED

        If the dressers are tall, you might want to consider bracing them into the studs of the wall. This is not hard or expensive to do.

        • Lisa Galligan

          Well my taller dresser is up against a window so that is kind of out. The other one (which is semi low and long but I still wouldn’t want it “falling on me”) I am not sure about. For some reason it seems the studs in our house are in “weird” places aka not where the furniture is situated. We ran into that with the one wall shelf we hung in the house. To find a suitable stud for the 3ish ft long shelf the shelf is almost in the closet on one side. My friends also claim they had their stuff anchored and it still ripped out of the wall. Certainly better to anchor/brace than not and take your chances but it doesn’t seem like that is a “guarantee”. I’d much rather stay in my bed as the article suggested in the first place :)

  • jbmadness

    MYTHBUSTED watch the video. i’m in the doorway

    • Jennifer Monahan

      This is an unreinforced masonry building — just cinderblock rather than adobe — so the doorway is the safest place to be, just like the article says. Most homes in CA are wood-frame so they wouldn’t shake to pieces in the same way.

      • http://blogs.kqed.org/stateofhealth Lisa Aliferis, KQED

        Jennifer is correct. At 2:56 in the video, the host explains that most buildings are not built this way any more.

    • Lily Queen

      Yeah, did you actually pay attention to the video? Their whole point is that this is OK for a certain kind of older building…which few people live or work in.

  • Parfait

    USGS website says not to go to the door jamb unless your home is “unreinforced masonry structures and adobe homes”

  • Bob

    Trust me stand by the door is safer. First nothing will fall on you because only idiots put book shelf in front of doors, and nothing should be in the door way, unless it’s a glass door. If the door slams you then you can assume the shelf in the room also slams the person not near the door. Get slam by the door(one side of door is pinned remember) < slam by shelf(not pinned). Door may pinch your finger? How about the lamp or shelf can pinch and hit your genital. Door can do not much dmg to your genitals. Genitals more important than finger!