A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck the Indonesian island of Lombok and the adjacent Gili Islands this week, and was felt on the nearby tourist island of Bali. Leaving more than 300 dead and around 84,000 others displaced, the event is yet another chapter in the age-old seismic story of humans trying to cope with an unpredictably rattling planet. But even though quakes have always been with us, something about them tends to leave us stunned and caught off guard. A lot of people start running for the exits the moment the shaking starts.
Many recommended earthquake preparedness strategies have multiple steps, and experts’ guides to best practices get tweaked and refined over the years as experience accumulates, scientific knowledge expands and construction techniques evolve. Situational awareness and having a plan (pdf) in mind remain key. But if a quake strikes when one is inside a building, many experts’ core mantra remains surprisingly simple and unchanging: Drop, cover and hold on.
This method is promoted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defense and Emergency Management and the Japanese government, to name but a few. None of these recommend going outside if one is already in a building.