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5 Common Earthquake Myths

Resident experts Barbara Luke and Wanda Taylor weigh in as UNLV prepares to participate in the Great Nevada Shakeout on Thursday.

Research  |  Oct 16, 2013  |  By UNLV News Center

Barbara Luke, director of the Applied Geophysics Center, poses with an earthquake simulator. Luke is a UNLV professor of civil and environmental engineering and construction. (Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services)

At 10:17 on Oct. 17, more than half a million Nevada residents will practice dropping, covering, and holding on as part of the Great Nevada ShakeOut earthquake drills. This year, UNLV will join many other schools, government offices, and businesses as official participants in the event designed to bring awareness to earthquake preparedness and survival.

The Applied Geophysics Center will host an open house 10:00 a.m. to noon Thursday in Room 3261, Science & Engineering Building.

Barbara LukeWe asked a couple of our experts to dispel some of the more common earthquake myths. Barbara Luke (left) is a professor of civil and environmental engineering and construction and director of the Applied Geophysics Center. Wanda Taylor (right) is a professor of geoscience.

MYTH: I live in Las Vegas; we don't have earthquakes here.

"Not true," Taylor said. "Several faults that could have damaging earthquakes along them lie within our Valley, with several more nearby." While current building codes in Southern Nevada don't allow for building along such hazardous faults, "ground shaking associated with an earthquake is still of great concern."

MYTH: The safest place I can go during an earthquake is in a doorway.

This long-held myth WAS once true. "There is an old image of a collapsed adobe home in California, where the only part left standing after an earthquake was the door frame," Taylor said. In today's contemporary homes - unlike older, unreinforced adobe or wood frame structures - doorways should no longer be the first place you run when an earthquake hits. They're no stronger than other parts of modern constructed homes, and offer no protection from falling objects. Your best option is under and holding onto a table, desk, or other kind of shelter that will offer that protection, while steering clear of exterior walls, windows, heavy furniture, or appliances.

MYTH: Earthquakes are unpredictable; there's nothing I can do to be prepared.

According to Luke, there is much that can be done. "We can advise, for example, a home hazard hunt." Exercises like these involve simple tasks -- like learning where in the home utility shutoffs are located, securing large items and hanging fixtures -- and can help save lives in an earthquake.

MYTH: If the first few moments of an earthquake aren't that bad, I don't need to seek cover.

An earthquake's initial shake is NOT an indication of its potential full force. "You cannot tell from initial shaking if an earthquake will suddenly become intense," Taylor warns. It is widely advised that immediately upon feeling shaking, you drop to the ground, take cover, and hold on to your shelter.

MYTH: After an earthquake, I should call my friends and family to let them know I'm ok."

As we have seen in the aftermath of recent natural disasters, cellular networks are prone to shut down when overloaded with calls. Movements like "Text First. Talk Second." stress the importance of delivering non-essential communications -- like letting family and friends know you're safe after an earthquake -- via short text messages, which get through even in the face of network congestion. This will leave the phone lines open for 911 calls and for communication among emergency responders.

For more information on the Great Nevada ShakeOut and tips on how to prepare for and stay safe during an earthquake, visit