Duck and Cover vs. Triangle of Life
Why Not Educate About Both and Let the Public Decide?

By Patricia El Sharei, Publisher

As scientists warn that it’s not a matter of if but when southern California will be hit by a major earthquake, the frequency of Duck and Cover drills continues to increase in homes, schools, businesses, and governmental offices throughout California.

Today, Duck and Cover is recommended as the official method of personal protection during earthquakes on all federal, state, and local disaster preparedness Web sites. Take, for example, the Web site for the Great Southern California ShakeOut. It has an entire Web page dedicated to educating the public on Duck and Cover.

Having grown up in the Midwest during the 1950s and 60s, this publisher recalls being taught Duck and Cover as a means of personal protection against nuclear attack. How, therefore, could it be that the same Duck and Cover, taught as part of the Civil Defense Program during the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, also became the preferred method for personal protection for earthquake survival in the 21st Century?

A little research provides some answers. Duck and Cover, complete with a short film, jingle, and advertising campaign, was the joint public relations project of the Civil Defense branch of the U.S. government and Archer Productions in 1951. It’s reported purpose — to quiet the public’s outcry for security following the detonation of the first Soviet atomic bomb in 1949.

The classic short film, Duck and Cover, stars Bert, a cartoon Turtle, serving as a role model to urge everyone (especially children) to Duck and Cover at the first flash of a nuclear blast. It should be noted, however, that at the time the film was produced, the harmful effects of radioactive fallout had not yet been identified. As such, the film advocates the Duck and Cover posture as a means of protection from the the primary danger of a Hiroshima-type nuclear blast. It was not until several years later that people became more knowledgeable of the devastating effects of a nuclear blast that couldn’t be shielded by the Duck and Cover posture.

Although further research did not yield a definite answer as to how Duck and Cover emerged years later as a technique for earthquake survival, it appears that it became the obvious choice when experts sought a method providing reasonable protection against objects flying across the room — something that many experts believe is the greatest threat during an earthquake.

Not everyone, however, agrees that Duck and Cover is the best method of personal protection from earthquakes and the damage they can cause. Doug Copp of American Rescue Team International (ARTI), believes that if roofs collapse, people huddled under furniture run the risk of being crushed. Copp takes the position that flying items are less hazardous than a collapsing building and in 1997 copyrighted the phrase, Triangle of Life, referring to the triangle shaped void, or empty space created when something falls against something else. An example would be a roof falling in on a couch or bed. Copp believes that it is within this space, or “survivable void,” that a person can survive.

After researching the Triangle of Life / survivable void, this author asked a number of emergency experts about the merits of the method for earthquake survival. The responses were either “the credibility of Doug Copp is questionable,” or that “Duck and Cover is the method of choice among experts because most buildings in California are not expected to collapse (due to higher building standards), and it provides protection from flying objects.” Since this publisher does not profess to be an expert on earthquake preparedness, but does believe that truth can be hidden in controversy, why not just educate about both methods and let the public decide?

The Palm Springs Area Survival Guide, therefore, recommends that emergency experts not withhold from the public information regarding the Triangle of Life merely because some professionals question the credentials of its author. When lives are at stake, the credibility of the method — not necessarily that of the author should be top priority.

Some reports indicate the Triangle of Life could be better utilized for some situations in lieu of Duck and Cover, or vice versa. After all, what are the true reported merits of Duck and Cover, other than a few classic film credits and notoriety by some as a Cold War instructional film?

For more on the origin and history of, the following site is highly recommended:


Additional Resources:





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