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What to do If I’m In A Tall Building During An Earthquake

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Should you stay in or out of tall buildings during an earthquake?

In an earthquake, if you are on an upper story of a building, do not try to leave the building during the earthquake. After the earthquake, I would put on shoes, grab my purse, and leave the building until it has been inspected for damage. Being outside and far from any building during an earthquake and its aftershocks is best, but actually traversing a building (and its immediate surroundings) during an earthquake is a terrible idea.

Some considerations:

  • Walking/running during an earthquake is dangerous. The floor/ground is moving! Studies in Japan have showed that traversing as little as ~10 ft (3 m) during an earthquake significantly increases your odds of injury.
  • Taking cover is the only way to protect from falling debris, the main source of injury in an earthquake.
  • You do not know when you first feel the shaking how large the earthquake will be. So if you want to leave, you will be taking the risks of falling and getting hit by debris in every moderate quake because you are worried that you might need to be somewhere else during a much rarer large one. The risk/reward analysis on this almost always favors sheltering in place.
  • Earthquakes don’t last that long. How fast can you practically leave your building when the floor/stairs are moving unpredictably and stuff is falling on you? Chances are you can’t make it all the way out of the building during a single earthquake anyway.
  • Debris falls outside, too. So it is not enough to simply leave the building. You must get away from your building and every other building nearby. Falling facade materials, such as brick and glass, can and do kill people outside of buildings during earthquakes.
  • If the building does collapse, a strong piece of furniture or a bathtub can provide the void space that lets you survive until rescuers can find you. If you are trying to walk somewhere, you are not being sheltered by any of these items.

It is possible that moving toward the interior of the building or the staircase is a good idea, but that will depend on your particular building. I don’t know the building codes in Ecuador. In the US and Japan, the increased risk of falling and getting hit by debris makes moving to such locations during a quake more hazardous than simply sheltering wherever you happen to be. Because of building codes, very few buildings in the US or Japan actually collapse during earthquakes, despite taking serious damage.

Answer by Kelly Martin, Marine Geophysicist, on Quora:

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