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Are You Covered For Earthquakes?

Preparing for an Earthquake

While earthquakes are most commonly associated with California, they have occurred in 39 states over the last 100 years, and have inflicted damage in all 50 states. In fact, each year there are about 5,000 earthquakes. The potential cost of earthquakes has been growing because of increasing urban development in seismically active areas and the vulnerability of older buildings which may not have been built or upgraded to current building codes. Earthquakes are not covered under standard homeowners or business insurance policies.

Coverage, however, is available in the form of an endorsement to a home or business insurance policy. In California, homeowners can get coverage from the California Earthquake Authority (CEA), a privately funded, publicly managed organization, and about 30 percent of earthquake policies are written by private insurers. Nonetheless, only about 13 percent of homeowners currently buy the coverage.”

Earthquake insurance provides protection from the shaking and cracking that can destroy buildings and personal possessions. Coverage for other kinds of damage that may result from earthquakes, such as fire and water damage due to burst gas and water pipes, is provided by standard home and business insurance policies. There are generally percentage deductibles for earthquakes.

Deductibles can range anywhere from 2 percent to 20 percent of the replacement value of the structure. The standard CEA policy includes a deductible that is 15 percent of the home’s replacement cost. Insurers in states like Washington, Nevada and Utah, with higher than average risk of earthquakes, often set minimum deductibles at around 10 percent. In most cases, consumers can request higher deductibles in order to save money on earthquake premiums.

Unlike other disasters such as hurricanes, there are no seasons or warnings for earthquakes. They can happen almost anywhere at anytime. Everyone, no matter, where they live should have a disaster recovery plan which includes securing the right type and amount of insurance.

A few simple steps can reduce property damage and help protect you and your family from disaster.

Inside the House:

  • Anchor bookcases and filing cabinets to nearby walls.
  • Anchor large appliances, such as water heaters, to walls using straps.
  • Install ledge barriers on shelves; place heavy items on lower shelves.
  • Use closed screw-eyes and wire to securely attach pictures and mirrors to the walls.
  • Attach computers and small appliances to desks, tables or countertops.
  • Install latches on drawers and cabinet doors to keep contents from spilling.

The Structure of the House

If the structural elements of your home need reinforcing, you can consider investing in some of the most important and common retrofits:

  • Add anchor bolts or steel plates between your home and its foundation.
  • Brace the inside of your home's cripple wall (the short wood-stud wall between the top of the foundation wall and the first floor) with sheathing
  • Brace unreinforced chimneys, masonry and concrete walls and foundations

For more tips on protection your home and family, go to the earthquake section of the IBHS Web site

Source: Insurance Information Institute; www.iii.org


In case of Earthquake

Protecting yourself and your family

  • Be sure that all family members know how to turn off utilities (gas, water and electricity) in an emergency.
  • Make sure every family member knows where safe spots are in each room, such as under sturdy tables or desks or in strong doorways.
  • Identify danger zones in each room, such as windows, bookshelves and furniture, that may fall over and cause injuries.

Protecting your property

  • Check to see that your house has been properly "tied" to the foundation. Extensive damage is often done to homes that shift and slide on the foundation during an earthquake. A contractor can advise you about this and suggest whether lateral bracing of the house walls is necessary.
  • Be sure that water heaters and other gas appliances are properly bolted down or supported on the floor or wall.
  • Put the heavier, breakable items on lower shelves.
  • Search the ceiling and foundation for deep plaster cracks. Make the necessary repairs if there are signs of structural defects.
  • Make an inventory of your possessions and store it off the premises. If your belongings are damaged, this list will help facilitate the claim filing process.

Recovering from Earthquake

Protecting Yourself and Your Family

  • First, check to be sure that no one in the family is injured. Start first aid immediately if injuries are found.
  • Be prepared for aftershocks which are normal following an earthquake.
  • Stay away from beach areas because of the danger of tsunamis (large seismic sea waves).

Protecting Your Property

  • Check utility lines and appliances for damage. If you smell gas, open the windows and turn off the main gas valve. Do not turn on electric lights or appliances until the gas has dissipated. They can cause sparks that might ignite the gas. If electric wires are shorting out, turn off the power.
  • Clean up flammable liquids inside buildings.
  • Check to see that sewage lines are intact and working before flushing toilets.
  • Check chimneys for cracks or other damage before using them.  
  • Notify your insurance agent or company representative as soon as possible. If you have vacated the premises, make sure your representative knows where to contact you.
  • Take pictures of damaged property and keep notes. Use pictures and inventory lists to help your insurance agent and adjuster assess the damages.
  • Don't be rushed into signing repair contracts. Deal with reputable contractors. If you're unsure about a contractor's credentials, contact your claims adjuster, Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce for referrals. Make sure the contractor you hire is experienced in repair work - not just new construction. Be sure of payment terms and consult your agent or adjuster before you sign any contracts.