Earthquake myth – taking cover under door frames



California gets a lot of earthquakes. In fact, there are several earthquakes in California almost every hour or so. Many of them are small and in desolate areas, so not many people feel them most of the time. Other earthquakes are felt regularly and daily in different areas, usually in the deserted or desert regions. One of the most common advice given to anyone living in an earthquake zone is that the best cover inside a building is under a door frame. In real life, you have more chances of being crushed under a door frame than many other parts of the house during a strong earthquake.

This common misconception is shown all the time, including in movies such as Volcano. The first supposed evidence of saying that the best place to hide during an earthquake was under the door frame came from earthquakes happening in Turkey and neighboring countries during the last 2 decades. Many cities there had entire buildings destroyed after big earthquakes, yet their doorways stood strong without much damage.

It was assumed then that the reason for this was that these doorways were strong and could survive an earthquake shaking because of their design and support compared to the rest of the house or building. Thus, it was thought that any object falling during an earthquake will not hit someone who is standing under a door frame. Later on it was found out that the buildings and homes in questions were built with mud or other weak material and the doors and doorways were built with wood, and thus the doors still remained intact in cities where people were trying to observe such things. The door frames can help, but they are not always the strongest things around and can actually cause more harm in big earthquakes. As of this writing, many major government websites recommend people to hide under a sturdy table or a doorframe, even the Department of Health and Human Services Emergency Preparedness & Response center.

There is also some controversy as to the safety in hiding under an object and hoping that nothing falls on that object. Hiding under a table may also be risky also when compared to a door frame as running from a door to anywhere else in a house is easier since you’re standing, while under a table, well, you’re under a table sitting or slouching or begging for forgiveness on your knees. At this moment, it seems like a door frame is not a safe place to stand under during an earthquake.

Thus, in the future, if there is an earthquake, do not hide under the door if you think there might be someplace else that might provide the same amount of protection. Simply panic and then run to the hills, if you can too.

What do you think about this? Have you ever felt an earthquake? How did you respond?

The picture below was taken while driving near Cerritos Auto Square in Cerritos, Los Angeles County, California.