News and Events


Duck and Cover or Not?

There's a story being passed from person to person and around the Internet questioning the doctrine of "Duck and Cover" during an earthquake as being outdated or even dangerous.  

The source for this story is evidently here, where Doug Copp, who is represented as a very experienced rescuer and Executive Director of the American Rescue Team International, advises that telling people to hide under a desk in an earthquake leads to more fatalities, not fewer, and recommends instead that people be trained to look for a potential void ("Triangle of Life") instead.   Voids are created by structural features or building contents, and are represented as much better places to be during a building collapse. In other words, the space beside a desk may be safer than underneath.

The most cogent response found so far can be viewed at the website of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) of Los Angeles:

which includes two downloadable official rejoinders, one from the American Red Cross National Office.  There's a very interesting and amusing set of observations, as well as links to several detailed newspaper articles about Doug Copp, at a speculative fiction website:

See also the Urban Legend website:

Analysis:   It comes down to this: Mr. Copp represents himself to be a very experienced rescuer and he's calling into question the established doctrine of "Duck and Cover" (actually, “Drop, Cover, and Hold On”) during earthquakes. As it applies to our schools, the question is, "should we continue recommending that students hide under there desks during an earthquake?" The distinction depends on our belief about what is likely to fall: light to moderate debris, for which "Duck and Cover" is good advice, or heavy structural items which may crush a desk and anyone underneath.

American Red Cross strongly upholds "Duck and Cover" and we have reason to believe that the American Red Cross is much, much better qualified in terms of mass civilian training than Mr. Copp. ARC knows how difficult it is to train people to make sophisticated choices during an emergency. In other words, “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” is most likely still the best possible advice over all, even if it isn’t always perfectly applicable.

Do we have classrooms in which "Find a potential void" is better advice for survival than "Duck and Cover"?   We believe that all our schools have been built and/or upgraded to exacting earthquake safety standards, but it is impossible to be sure.     Certainly, if we knew about classrooms where desks might be crushed by falling objects or structural elements, we might give such advice -- but we'd certainly want to mitigate the hazard if at all possible.



• Community Day at Ross Road Family YMCA, Saturday 9/18/04  10 - 2. 


School Safety





Comprehensive School Safety (which includes Emergency Preparedness) for Palo Alto schools is the legal responsibility of the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD).  Palo Alto PTA organizations provide volunteer assistance to PAUSD under the direction of District officials and site principals. The information in these web pages is presented for information only and does not represent official policy or practices of any organization.