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Earth Sense: Old safety tips are best left in the past

POSTED: January 13, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Does anybody have a yearning for the “Good Old Days” to return — say, the 1960s? We drove around in cars with no seat belts. In a lightning storm, we were told to lay face down in a ditch (never mind the 12,000 gallons of water that might come rushing down on us).

For earthquakes, the wisdom was to stand upright in a doorway. And should a tornado touch down, it was considered important to open all the windows “so the house won’t explode.” In schools, it’s said that one kid was even left behind to open windows while the others exited the classroom.

Such dangerous nonsense is a thing of the past now, and best left there.

Earthquakes are rare in Georgia, but if you’re visiting San Francisco, Santiago, Chile, or Singapore, there’s a good chance you’ll experience one. Collapsing buildings are less frequent than injuries from falling objects. The best protection is to use the “drop, cover, hold on” principle.

In a severe quake, the rolling up-and-down movement of the ground makes most people fall, and that hazard is avoided by dropping on all fours. Head injuries are the most serious; therefore it’s good to hide under a solid desk or table. And to prevent this shelter from going away, we hold on to it.

Huts made from baked mud (adobe) are an exception, necessitating a quick exit from the structure (more information at www.earthquakecountry.info). But in other buildings, people running to get outside get hurt by bricks and ledges falling from the exterior walls. Look at pictures of the classical buildings in San Francisco to get an idea how much stuff there is that can break loose and fall onto sidewalks and people below.

Similar precautions apply to tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, which we’ll see returning to Georgia in March. Lightning rarely hits inside the home, so it’s best to get, or stay, inside a building. In high winds, windows break and glass gets airborne like flying daggers. Don’t try to open them. If air pressure differences could really make a house explode, the windows would open by themselves first.

Again, the drop-cover-hold method provides the best protection.

Whether it’s earthquakes or tornadoes, in the 21st century the best advice is to remain inside for the best chance of survival, stay away from windows and protect one’s head.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays.


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