Myths About What to Do During a Natural Disaster

You probably hear it in the workplace, in your home or out with your friends. You’ll start talking about natural disasters and someone will say, “I’ve heard it’s best to do this.” And thus the myth is continued.

There are a number of myths about how to react to a natural disaster, whether it be an earthquake, tornado or a wildfire. Here are some of them:

Stand in a doorway during an earthquake
Many people think that the doorway would be the strongest part of the structure and thus the safest place to be. However, even if this is true in your building, it might be harder than you think to get there. If the whole ground is moving, it will be hard to move in the direction you want. That’s why it’s recommended that you stop, drop and hold on. Try and get underneath something sturdy. After all, you’re more likely to get injured by falling objects and debris than by a collapsed building.

Abandon your car and lie in a ditch during a tornado
I’ll admit. I was a victim of this myth. I thought that a ditch would be a safe place to lay if there were a tornado close by. However, according to James Judge, a member of the American Red Cross’ Scientific Advisory Board, it might actually be safer in your car. He recommends staying in the car, putting on your seat belt and crouching below the window. He also says to turn on the ignition so that the airbags will deploy if the car gets hit.

- Be prepared with the Ultimate Auto Emergency Kit - 

natural-disasters-mythsIn a dangerous moment, people panic and only think of themselves
Despite what the movies show, this probably isn’t the actual case. That’s not to say that some people don’t freak out, but it’s not the overwhelming effect. Research has shown1 that people will begin to panic if they don’t have adequate information, perceive an immediate threat of death, feel trapped or there is a lack of leadership. While the media likes to focus on the bad that people do during a disaster (ie. looting), the majority of people are actually courteous and caring. More commonly, people will make mistakes because they begin to lose concentration but this is not panic.

Open the windows to equalize the pressure caused by a tornado
The myth is that you should open windows and doors in your home because a tornado will cause pressure in your home, making it more susceptible to damage. There are a few things that are problematic here. Many times people are injured from flying debris in a tornado and standing near a window probably isn’t the smartest thing to do. Secondly, there is no statistical data that would prove this to be true.

Taping a big X on your windows during a hurricane
Many times, people will tape large Xs on their glass windows to give them more stability during a hurricane. However, this doesn’t really help as much as you think. Even if the window breaks, the tape might just be creating larger shards of glass that could be more harmful. Again, avoid standing near windows during high-wind storms. Instead, use plywood or invest in impact-resistant windows.

- Does your family have a 72-hour kit? - 

Stay and bunker down in the event of a wildfire
You often hear people say that they would rather stay and fight. However, you also hear stories about people who couldn’t do enough to fight the fire and ended up perishing in the flames. There have also been some who have said that the flames of a wildfire will overthrow you as you try and get out. It’s a high-risk gamble to stay during a mandatory evacuation. You’d rather lose your house and live than ignore the evacuation and die.

What else have you found?
Comment below and tell us what you have been surprised about during a disaster? Perhaps you found yourself doing something that you didn’t realize you were doing or saw someone survive miraculously. Share your knowledge and comment below!

Also, feel free to ask us about some advice that you've heard and we'll do a follow-up round of myths!

1. Wraith, Ruth; Gordon, Rob. 1986. "Human responses to natural disasters" Macedone Digest. v1 1986. Available online at

23 thoughts on “Myths About What to Do During a Natural Disaster”

  • Tammy N

    Was surprised to find during Hurricane Irene that locations where water/ice/food were available were being posted on the internet, not broadcast on radio! Once everyone's cell phone batteries ran out, unless you had a car charger and gas in your tank there was no internet. Not to mention, not all of us have smartphones w/ data plans. I found there is NO substitute for being prepared to be self sufficient in ANY kind of emergency. Hope for the best, be ready for the worst.

  • Janet Liebsch

    Great post!!! We wanted to share some lightning related myths...

    - If you’ve ever heard someone say lightning never strikes the same place twice... WRONG! Lightning often strikes the same place several times during one storm.

    - If you are caught outdoors and don’t have access to a strong shelter to get into or under, BE SMALL..! Do NOT lie flat on the ground since that makes you a larger target. Instead crouch down, try to stay on the balls of your feet and bend forward putting hands on your knees – esp if you feel your hair stand on end and/or feel tingly (which means lightning is about to strike!)

    - If someone is struck by lightning, you CAN touch them since they do not carry electrical charge.

    And one more earthquake related one...

    - There has been an email floating around for years about the "Triangle of Life", but please DO NOT pass it on. The Red Cross and other officials discourage using this technique esp in U.S. and other developed countries with good building codes. As The Ready Store suggested above, the best thing to do during an earthquake is .. Drop, Cover (get under a table or something sturdy, if possible) and Hold on!

    Keep up the great work guys! :) j (& B)

  • Barb

    Having lived in the backcountry of San Diego, CA most of my life, I know about wildfires, up close and personal. What you should do depends on whether or not you were prepared. Make your property fire resistant. Clear brush, trim trees to at least 6 feet off the ground, keep your driveway passable and at least 15 feet wide with an area large enough for a fire truck to turn around, and have an escape plan!! Many homes that burned to the ground in our area did none of the above. Remember that if the fire crew has no way to get out safely, they will not come in in most cases. That is a lesson in common sense-They won't let themselves be trapped and neither should you. For your own safety and that of the firefighters do not refuse to evacuate, they need to concentrate on fighting the fire, and they should not ever be in a position of risking their lives rescuing people who should have left.

  • GAP

    Live in SFL and after Hurricane Andrew I actually saw concrete light poles impaled through the sides of CBS constructed homes. Its safe to say the masking tape "x" on the windows wouldn't help!

  • JeannieC

    The first time I heard that you should leave your car and go to a ditch during a tornado, I thought "OH NO!". Play with a children's toy top. It WILL go to any groove and stay there til it dies. You do NOT want to be in that groove! I like the seatbelt, stay-in-your-car idea, if I MUST be in a car.

  • Michael

    I was in Sayre, PA about two years ago. I was delivering medication to a nursing home and I kept hearing tornado warnings. But the meds had to be delivered so I kept going. The clouds kept getting darker and darker and then sun was almost completely blotted out. This tornado formed on the road in front of my maybe 300 yards away. It was so quick. I can tell you that you're never prepared to see that. At first I was just in awe. I didn't even react because I was too amazed. Then the van started getting buffeted by wind and I realized I was in serious danger. I turned that van around and took off. I got very lucky. Now every time I hear about a tornado warning, I do the smart thing and stay away.

  • Chris

    In the event of terrorists taking over an aircraft (on the runway when parked) If there is a rescue operation; duck and cover your head and PULL YOUR KNEES UP WHILE TRYING TO KEEP YOUR FEET AND ANKLES OFF THE FLOOR. Bullets tend to track low, stats show that in this situation many of the hostages have have received wounds to feet, ankles and lower legs from stray rounds.

    Stay motionless, the good guys might think you are a terrorist trying make an aggressive move if you stand up. Additionally, the good guys will treat EVERYONE like a terrorist until they verify your identity. So don't take it personal if you are handled roughly by the good guys, they are just doing their job to ensure everyone's safety.

  • Jason

    Having lived through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, I have some advice about communicating after a natural disaster. Cell towers may be destroyed and the volume of cellular calls may prevent your calls from getting through, so rely on texting instead and try to find a land line with a dial tone if you need to make a call. Remember that if you are trying to call a cell phone, they are probably having the same issues.

  • julie a neary

    ive blogged concerns on facebook
    but most detail is on your site but doesnt see what we all generally do as the same as your outlying regions perhaps

    but perhaps your areas are more populated than i knew then too

    weve very little grren space left


    we are unsure of the casue of our atmospheric problems but
    a hole in the atmosphere was a worry once
    and i dont thinnk its gone away

    oxygen levels are down in the area

    and so is the carrying cappacity of some quite healthy individuals

    o2 carrying that which in turns make carrying heavy items more difficult

    o2 doent do it alone for long and diet and veg sometimes a glut and sometimes a short supply

    and suppliments

    are important i think at this time

    but that isnt my current sales area !!

  • Ron Tyler

    Please please do not keep repaeating the "myth" that people should get under tables or under anything during an earthquake. Unless that table is a very hard large table that will take a heavy hard hit, getting under a table will get someone killed. The best place for anyone caught in an earthquake is beside a large piece of furniture. The furniture will take the hit and the space next to the furniture and three feet out may provide enough space for someone to huddle down low and be somewhat protected during an earthquake and may give you the space to stay until you can be rescued. Getting under matresses may give you some shielding from falling objects but if anything heavy falls on the mattress or whatever you have over you may trap you underneath it or could suffocate or kill you. Significant studies have been made. Get beside refrigerators, couches large pieces of furniture.

  • CherylOfTheNorthwoods
    CherylOfTheNorthwoods July 8, 2013 at 12:20 am

    I have seen several tornadoes and was in one once. Mom and I were out in a WV Beetle in 1973 on a highway in central Wisconsin. We could see a tornado coming so as all others did along the road, we got out of our car and got into the ditch. We laid flat on our faces. Most of the people's cars went rolling through the field. We had dirt pounded into our skin but we all were fine. Had we been in our cars it would have been disastrous. No one wore seatbelts back then.

  • Jason

    Well I live in CT, during the blizzard that dumped four feet of snow n no signs of plows. The entire neighborhood dug ourselves out with shovels n snow lowers. People who couldn't help put gas cans n bottle of water out by there driveways. Between the hurricanes n blizzards we have been getting hit up bad about twice a year. I become a prepper years b4 at a young age people thought I was weird now people tell me what they did. Buy air mattresses so when your close ones loose power they come to your place for weeks.

  • Alyssa

    Do not go under anything in an earthquake! Look up "the triangle of life" these locations provide a better chance at safety.

  • Ken

    Yeah we've probably all seen at least one episode of Doomsday Preppers and the maladies they think are going to hit is. My take is prepare for them ALL THE SAME WAY - have water number one, food, proper clothing/shelter, and some basic tools and good first-aid kit handy. Preparing for an enduring disaster is costly but preparing for shorter-term disasters like tornadoes or hurricanes isn't costly nor difficult. You just have to put the time into the thinking BEFORE the event, when there is no pressure of time or an imminent event happening that you have to scramble around for at the last minute. To start, I'd probably get a sturdy food-grade water container...5 gallons per person for a week, minimum, so size it depending on your family. Also it pays to invest in a higher-end first-aid kit since when you really need it, you'll wish you had it instead of the hundred bucks you saved by getting the one with a thousand band-aids and a single gauze pad and roll. In that case, it'll be the best hundred bucks you ever spent.

  • rich

    forget the triangle.
    everyone except copp says duck and cover

  • Marge

    After going through three hurricanes in FL and flooding and erthquakes in PA, I have learned to store food and water and medical supplies for at least six months. We always have a garden. I also have goal zero solar energy unit and solar radios. I have ham radios. We lose electricity and the batteries run out in a couple of days. We lose water and sewer so we use buckets or build a latrine like the Army days. Playing cards and a guitar for entertainment. We know our neighbors and help each other. God Bless everyone who goes through a natural disaster because it does make you stronger. I found my priority was family and friends. There is strength in numbers.

  • Reid

    Have a Hand held CB radio on hand it can come in handy when cell service and landlines are down

  • Cecelia

    Another set of items to always keep in supply are disposables which will come in handy when there is little or no water or cooking convenience; like gloves, cups, bowls, plates and food trays, knives, forks, spoons, paper towels, serviettes, bottled water (so you can share food with a neighbour or community member)also water boots. They are not costly and can be easily stored for years. Bottled drinking water can also be stored for 6 months or more.

    Something people easily forget to use the items in the refrigerator first - the moment the power goes before you think of using the canned stuff and start with the heavier meals in the morning and the lighter meals in the evening.

  • mrs julie ann neary
    mrs julie ann neary July 11, 2013 at 2:22 am

    hmmmm wouldnt it nice to think it wasnt just the gods of the world had room to fit em in and the budget to create the sales without the debt mountain the governemnts then try and cut when the world is looking for the looted borrowed and the repair and replace avenue when none is available dry and in working order

    dont for get a plastic bag if you can afford it to save the electricAL GADGET

  • Danny

    Here are some disasters that most people don't think about. The Bhopal India disaster - 25,000 people died when a ferilizer plant leaked toxic fumes into the city. Chernoble nuclear disaster- unknown death count. More recently the fertizer plant explosion in Texas and the oil tanker explosion in Quebec. Every one of these had 2 things in common - they all happened late at night and no one living in the area expected anything like that could have happened. Do you know what factories, chemical plants are in your area? Good idea to take the time to find out and determine what are the possible worse case scenario's that can happen and what, if anything you can do to be prepared for them.

  • Cathy

    Having been in a wildfire....get out. You can't out run the fire. Listen to law enforcement. It puts them in danger, too, when you rebel. It is amazing how a small amount of short grass can have flames 30 feet high. And when you think that a road is a natural fire break...well, I have seen fire jump over 4 lane roads. Winds and the fire's own storm can create a terrible fire monster. Neighbors who tried to save their homes couldn't do it with the garden hose.

  • Misty

    On tornado prep: Have bicycle or other sturdy helmets available for all members of your family in a safe place in your home. There has been a lot of evidence that having a helmet on can save a life and prevent the most serious head injuries. Also, if you have a baby or toddler, bring in their car seat and place them in it during the storm. The seat is designed to withstand impacts, so if the worst happens and your home is struck, it will keep them safer. Do not assume you will be able to hold onto your child in a tornado, because you will not. (I live in Tuscaloosa, AL, and went through the April 2011 tornado with a three-week-old. I have done some research since then.)

  • Jackson

    We like to always have a bug out bag in each vehicle. In case an unexpected emergency happens. We live in hurricane ally and have tornadoes here also. Never ever drive through water that you can not see the road under or is up on the frame of your vehicle. We have had people get washed away driving through water that was not very deep. It does not take much water to push a car off of the road. We have had people drive through the water and the road was washed out underneath, It took their car miles down stream and they found the body. Tidal surge can be massive and the whole ocean rises up as it comes ashore. We are able now to leave every time a hurricane is coming. We know the direction they are going to take and how to drive to avoid it and come back home. To raise the strength of your home so damage is less. The federal govt has a website. These are some that can be dome to existing homes. Gluing the under side of your roof sheathing to the rafters(check for proper adhesive), reinforced strapping in the attic, brackets attaching tops of rafters to main beam, shear wind stabilizers at eve over hang attached to walls,plus more. These are simple things that any one of average experience can do to make their home stronger.Some Metal roofing increases wind performance to the 150 to 175 mph. That is almost double of some basic shingles.

Leave a Reply