Drop, Cover, Hold?

Is It Best For You?

What should you do when the earth starts shaking? Overwhelmingly, authorities instruct people to DROP to all fours, take COVER under something sturdy, and HOLD on until the shaking stops—Drop, Cover, Hold (DCH). (Image from the USGS)

First, soak in the potentially life-saving Drop, Cover, and Hold information by clicking these buttons. The more you learn, the better prepared you’ll be when the time comes!

Public Messaging

From the resources above, it’s clear that DCH is being heavily messaged, and for good reason. It saves lives. Check out this quote from a USGS research study specific to PNW earthquakes.

“Given the complexities involved and the various types of earthquakes that could occur in the Pacific Northwest, simple, clear, and consistent messaging is preferable so that users know what actions to take in most situations. Studies support this approach and indicate that drop, cover, and hold on actions are the most appropriate protective actions to take in most cases.”

Note the bold text within the quote above, especially in relation to the underlined phrase.

Since Drop, Cover, Hold will likely do the greatest good for the greatest number of people during the shaking of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, organizations will continue to focus on it through public messaging. They don’t want to confuse communities with too many scenarios since confusion often leads to poor decision-making.

Do people follow the current advice?

Before diving deeper, it’s worth noting that social media has given us a window into how people actually behave when shaking starts. With all the simple, clear, and consistent messaging around Drop, Cover, and Hold, has the messaging worked?

The University of Oregon headed a study that examined social media videos of the 2018 Anchorage, Alaska earthquake. The researchers found:

“Recommended protective action, like Drop, Cover, and Hold On, was less common as well as less timely when people experienced the Anchorage 2018 earthquake in private relative to public structures. Adults significantly delayed their own personal protective action to find children, and often made poor protective-action decisions, especially at home.”

Similar research headed by New Zealand’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research observed individual behavior during the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. It found:

“The primary trans-event responses were to hold (26%) onto furniture, walls, and/or other people close to them and to look around (30%). No individuals were observed to perform all ‘Drop, Cover, Hold’ actions, the recommended action during strong earthquake shaking in New Zealand.”

It’s hard to say if the simple, clear, consistent messaging around Drop, Cover, and Hold will work when Cascadia strikes.

Here’s my take. There’s time. There’s time for you to read and learn. It’s not up to me to withhold what might be YOUR best option simply because it’s not the best option for the majority. It’s not up to me to withhold options in order to avoid confusing you. If you’re reading this, it’s because you want to learn (and I’m grateful you’re here!). How you internalize the information, how deep you dive, and how you ultimately respond to the shaking is up to you. I firmly believe learning beyond simple messaging toward “more complete messaging” will better prepare you. Knowledge (fact-based from the experts!) is powerful. It gives you choices. What you do with those choices is up to you.

Other Choices?

Below are two resources worth exploring. They offer a glimpse of other actions that may be better for the “few” who don’t fit into the “most” category.

Visit FEMA’s Protective Actions page for earthquakes. Scroll down until you get to the Research section. Click the “View Research Summary”.

After clicking “View Research Summary”, read the entire page!! It’s good foundational information that will help you make decisions when the time comes. The Messaging Focus paragraph (copied here for easy viewing), contains information about the Stay or Go option.

Knowing if this choice is the right choice for you to make in your home or workplace means talking with an expert in advance about how your building is expected to perform in an earthquake. Unreinforced masonry buildings (URM) and single-story wood-framed houses will hold up differently during shaking. Having a seismic assessment done can also help provide ideas on what you may be able to do to mitigate earthquake hazards within the home.

Last but certainly not least: The opinion of a world-leading expert on subduction zones who was in Japan during the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. The detailed information presented by an Oregon State University Professor is well worth your time.