5 Earthquake Myths

Be prepared for Thursday’s earthquake drill – but don’t be mistaken

On Thursday, Californians everywhere will be curled up under their desks, practicing for the next big earthquake.

Some might say they know when it will be. Others will tell you it will cause California to break off completely from the rest of the U.S.

But don’t let them fool you. Here are the top 5 myths about earthquakes, debunked by continuity and emergency services expert at UCSD Phillip Van Saun.

Myth #1: Don’t hide under a table, hide against a wall
The alleged “Triangle of Life” forms when a structure like a table or wall holds up one side of a collapsed ceiling, forming a triangle around the person huddled against the wall. In 2004, a man named Doug Copp said this was the best method for survival.

But Van Saun said this is nothing more than an urban legend. The U.S. Geological Survey and Red Cross both say the best approach is to drop to the ground, cover your head and hold on to whatever is covering you – the drop, cover and hold method.

Also, don’t hide under a doorway. Even Doug Copp would agree with the Red Cross in the finding that those who hide in doorways tend to not survive major earthquakes.

Myth #2: Earthquake weather means earthquake
If the weather is hot and dry, we won’t necessarily get an earthquake. If that were the case, San Diego should be having a lot more earthquakes.

“The weather pattern does not have any effect on the potential for an earthquake,” Van Saun said.

Myth #3: An earthquake may cause California to break off into the ocean
“That is absolutely a myth,” Van Saun said.

Though the Pacific Plate and North American Plate are both in California, they are moving (ever so slowly) horizontally past one another. So California is not headed for the sea. Los Angeles and San Francisco may one day be adjacent to one another though, according to the USGS.

Myth #4: The world is ending because there are more earthquakes now than ever
The number of earthquakes has actually decreased in the past several years. The earth experiences about 50 earthquakes per day, and 18 major earthquakes per year, according to the National Earthquake Information Center.

It may seem like there have been more recently, but that may be due to the fact that more stations to measure earthquakes, and our methods of communicating when earthquakes happen has improved, USGS speculates.

Myth #5: Scientists can predict the day when the next big earthquake will happen
Scientists are close, but not that close, Van Saun said. They’ve studied the probabilities of when an earthquake might occur, but prefer to focus their efforts on being prepared at all times.

“We can predict the potential magnitude of an earthquake based on the geological time of a fault, but we can’t predict with a level of assurance the day [an earthquake will occur],” he said. 

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