Bad idea: 6 myths about how to react during a disaster

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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 damage.

Here are some common misconceptions about disaster preparedness and what you really 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 windowless room."

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."

Myth No. 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 next.

"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 hazard.

Here's how hurricane insurance works .

Myth No. 5: Stay and defend your home in the event of a wildfire

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 wildfire approaches.

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.



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The NASDAQ OMX Group, Inc.



This article appears in: Personal Finance , Insurance

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