Like putting butter on a burn or sucking on a snake bite, some
myths persist no matter how many times they're proved wrong. When
it comes to reacting during a disaster like an earthquake, tornado
or wildfire, a little bit of misinformation can do a whole lot of
Here are some common misconceptions about disaster preparedness
and what you
need to do to stay safe.
Myth No. 1: Stand inside a doorway
during an earthquake
Years ago, when homes and buildings weren't built according to
today's improved engineering standards, people recommended standing
inside a reinforced doorway for protection during an earthquake.
But these days, "that is definitely a myth that could get you into
trouble," warns Peter Moraga, a spokesperson for the Insurance
Information Network of California. "Scientists have proven that the
best thing to do is drop, cover and hold on."
By dropping to your knees, covering your head and hiding beneath
a heavy table or another piece of furniture, Moraga says you stand
a much better chance of avoiding falling objects during an
earthquake. Also, you're more likely to get injured while dashing
for a doorway than simply staying put.
The American Red Cross offers more
tips for staying safe when the earth shakes
Myth No. 2: Open the windows in your home to equalize the
pressure caused by a tornado
This is a terrible idea for a couple of reasons, explains Julie
Rochman, president of the Insurance Institute for Business &
Home Safety. "A, it doesn't work. And B, it's a really bad idea to
stand in front of a window when a tornado is flinging debris all
over the place. Plus, if there's an opening in the window, you
could be sucked out."
Rochman recommends that people "leave their windows alone and
instead go to a windowless area, like a shelter, your basement or a
Here's more on
tornado clean-up and claims
In addition, after some public pressure, the CDC has
acknowledged that it might be
a good idea to wear a helmet during a tornado
, but only if you don't spend time looking for one.
Myth No. 3: Tape your windows during a hurricane
Taping a big "X" on your window "isn't going to do anything to
prevent the window from blowing in," warns Rochman. "Plus, if
you're taping windows at the last minute, you're putting yourself
in danger. Better you should invest in a window protection system
like impact-resistant windows or hurricane shutters."
James Judge, a member of the American Red Cross' Scientific
Advisory Council, agrees. "The myth is that the tape will hold the
glass together, but that's totally false," he warns. "The duct tape
may in fact create larger shards of glass that could cause
significant injuries. The best thing to do is to put up plywood or
a corrugated type of window protection."
4: Open a window or a door on the lee side of your house
during a hurricane
This is a long-standing myth spread from one neighbor to the
"The belief is that if you open the windows on the lee side of a
home, you'll relieve the pressure and prevent the roof from popping
off," says Judge, referring to the side of a building that is
sheltered from the wind. "But the fact of the matter is that's a
huge misconception." Changes in atmospheric pressure caused by a
hurricane have no impact on a home or building. Opening doors and
windows, however, can invite in flying debris -- a definite
how hurricane insurance works
Myth No. 5: Stay and defend your home in the event of a
Australia has long embraced a policy of "stay and defend" during
wildfires. The reasoning is that homeowners can be overtaken by
wildfires as they attempt to evacuate, so it's safer to stay home
or leave the area early. Proponents say able-bodied persons can be
trained to safely stay at home and fight spot fires.
While it's not unusual for some U.S. homeowners to ignore
evacuation orders and fight fires with garden hoses, firefighting
organizations here widely encourage evacuation when wildfires
threaten homes. The International Association of Fire Chiefs in
Fairfax, Va., unveiled its "Ready, Set, Go!" program in 2010. It
emphasizes early compliance with evacuation orders. The message is
that it's a high-risk gamble to refuse to leave your home as a
People should always heed evacuation orders, says Moraga.
Myth No. 6: Abandon your car and lie in a ditch if caught
in a tornado
If you're caught in a tornado, your first plan of action should
be to find shelter, says Judge. But if that's not possible, diving
into a ditch could be dangerous.
It's true that a ditch can offer a temporary escape from flying
debris. However, if you seek shelter in a car, put on your seat
belt, crouch below window level and turn on the ignition so that
air bags will deploy if an object hits the vehicle. "That, to me,
is the better way than to jump down into a ditch," says Judge.