Earthquake fiction and facts

Fiction:

During an earthquake, you should get into a doorway for protection.

Fact:

In modern homes, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the structure and usually have doors that will swing and can injure you. During an earthquake, you should get under a sturdy piece of furniture and hold on.

Fiction:

During an earthquake, the earth cracks open and people, cars, and animals can fall into the cracks.

Fact:

The earth does not crack open like the Grand Canyon. The earth moves and rumbles and, during that movement, small cracks can form. The usual displacements of the earth during an earthquake are caused by up-and-down movements, so shifts in the height of the ground are more likely than chasm-like cracks.

Fiction:

Animals can sense earthquakes and give advanced warning.

Fact:

Animals may be able to sense the first low-frequency waves of an earthquake that occurs deep within the earth, but the damage-causing primary and secondary waves follow just seconds behind. Animals do not make good earthquake warning devices.

Fiction:

Big earthquakes always happen in the early morning.

Fact:

Several recent damaging earthquakes have occurred in the early morning, so many people believe that all big earthquakes happen then. In fact, earthquakes occur at all times of day.

Fiction:

It’s hot and dry – earthquake weather!

Fact:

Many people believe that earthquakes are more common in certain kinds of weather. In fact, no correlation with weather has been found. Earthquakes begin many kilometres below the region affected by surface weather. People tend to notice earthquakes that fit the pattern and forget the ones that do not.

Fiction:

We have good building codes so we must have good buildings.

Fact:

New Zealand’s building codes are among the world’s best, and as a result modern (post-1980) buildings are most unlikely to collapse in even the strongest earthquake shaking. However, there are no grounds for complacency. The majority of our buildings were constructed before 1980, and even though these are unlikely to collapse, many of them, along with essential services, will be so badly damaged in a large earthquake as to be unusable. For this reason New Zealand’s cities could be rendered non-functional by earthquake damage to buildings, their contents and to infrastructure.

Fiction:

Scientists can now predict earthquakes.

Fact:

Scientists do not know how to predict earthquakes, and they do not expect to know how to any time in the foreseeable future. However, based on scientific data, probabilities can be calculated for potential future earthquakes.

Fiction:

“Triangle of life” advice has replaced “Drop, cover and hold”.

Fact:

Drop, cover and hold is the best advice for New Zealand conditions where falling objects present a real threat.

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