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Myths About What to Do During a Natural Disaster

by admin 10 Jul 2012

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You probably hear it in the workplace, in your home or out with your friends. You’ll start talking about natural disasters and someone will say, “I’ve heard it’s best to do this.” And thus the myth is continued. There are a number of myths about how to react to a natural disaster, whether it be an earthquake, tornado or a wildfire. Here are some of them:

Stand in a doorway during an earthquake

Many people think that the doorway would be the strongest part of the structure and thus the safest place to be. However, even if this is true in your building, it might be harder than you think to get there. If the whole ground is moving, it will be hard to move in the direction you want. That’s why it’s recommended that you stop, drop and hold on. Try and get underneath something sturdy. After all, you’re more likely to get injured by falling objects and debris than by a collapsed building.

Abandon your car and lie in a ditch during a tornado

I’ll admit. I was a victim of this myth. I thought that a ditch would be a safe place to lay if there were a tornado close by. However, according to James Judge, a member of the American Red Cross’ Scientific Advisory Board, it might actually be safer in your car. He recommends staying in the car, putting on your seat belt and crouching below the window. He also says to turn on the ignition so that the airbags will deploy if the car gets hit.

In a dangerous moment, people panic and only think of themselves

Despite what the movies show, this probably isn’t the actual case. That’s not to say that some people don’t freak out, but it’s not the overwhelming effect. Research has shown1 that people will begin to panic if they don’t have adequate information, perceive an immediate threat of death, feel trapped or there is a lack of leadership. While the media likes to focus on the bad that people do during a disaster (ie. looting), the majority of people are actually courteous and caring. More commonly, people will make mistakes because they begin to lose concentration but this is not panic.

Open the windows to equalize the pressure caused by a tornado

The myth is that you should open windows and doors in your home because a tornado will cause pressure in your home, making it more susceptible to damage. There are a few things that are problematic here. Many times people are injured from flying debris in a tornado and standing near a window probably isn’t the smartest thing to do. Secondly, there is no statistical data that would prove this to be true.

Taping a big X on your windows during a hurricane

Many times, people will tape large Xs on their glass windows to give them more stability during a hurricane. However, this doesn’t really help as much as you think. Even if the window breaks, the tape might just be creating larger shards of glass that could be more harmful. Again, avoid standing near windows during high-wind storms. Instead, use plywood or invest in impact-resistant windows.

Stay and bunker down in the event of a wildfire

You often hear people say that they would rather stay and fight. However, you also hear stories about people who couldn’t do enough to fight the fire and ended up perishing in the flames. There have also been some who have said that the flames of a wildfire will overthrow you as you try and get out. It’s a high-risk gamble to stay during a mandatory evacuation. You’d rather lose your house and live than ignore the evacuation and die.

What else have you found?

Comment below and tell us what you have been surprised about during a disaster? Perhaps you found yourself doing something that you didn’t realize you were doing or saw someone survive miraculously. Share your knowledge and comment below! Also, feel free to ask us about some advice that you've heard and we'll do a follow-up round of myths!

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Sources 1. Wraith, Ruth; Gordon, Rob. 1986. "Human responses to natural disasters" Macedone Digest. v1 1986. Available online at

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