What You Should Know About:
Earthquakes & Your Homeowners Insurance
Three things you should know:
- Earthquake damage is not covered under a typical Homeowners Insurance policy. To protect your investment in your home, consider adding separate policies to cover these risks.
- Earthquake insurance provides coverage against severe damage or total destruction of your home. High deductibles allow for coverage to be more affordable to homeowners.
- The 6.8 magnitude Nisqually Earthquake that jolted the Northwest in 2001 caused an estimated $2 billion in damage to homes, businesses and government buildings. The quake, which struck near Olympia, Wash., led to 9,500 insurance claims and approximately $315 million in insured losses.
The Pacific Northwest region has the second highest risk of earthquake in the United States. Seismologists say a massive 8 or 9 magnitude earthquake could occur at any time along the Cascadia Subduction Zone that stretches south from Vancouver Island to Northern California.
Earthquakes can cause a great deal of damage to your home in only a few minutes. While earthquake damage is excluded in a standard homeowners policy, Earthquake Insurance is available either as a separate policy, as an endorsement to your Homeowners or Renters Insurance policy or through a specialty carrier such as GeoVera.
The decision to purchase Earthquake Insurance is a personal choice. Asking yourself a few questions may help you to decide:
- Can you afford the cost of rebuilding or repairing your home if it is damaged?
- Can you replace your personal belongings if they are damaged or destroyed?
- Can you afford to pay temporary house and other expenses if structural damage makes your home uninhabitable?
Earthquake insurance provides coverage in the event of severe damage or total destruction of your home. Premiums vary by company and deductibles (your out-of-pocket costs for a claim) for Earthquake insurance are higher than those in standard homeowners or renters insurance – they can range anywhere from 2 to 20 percent of the replacement value of your home. The deductible amount also may depend on your location. Insurers in Washington state, for example, often set minimum deductibles at around 10 percent.
If you plan to get Earthquake insurance, consider shopping around to get the best price, most affordable deductible and the customer service that meets your needs.
Knowing what to do during an earthquake is critical for personal safety. During an earthquake, the “solid” earth moves like the deck of a ship. The actual movement of the ground, however, is seldom the direct cause of death or injury.
Most casualties result from falling objects and debris, such as falling bricks, overturned bookcases and collapsing walls. Earthquakes may also trigger landslides, cause fires and generate huge ocean waves called “tsunamis”. Fortunately, you can take action to reduce the dangers from earthquakes to yourself, your family and others.
Before an earthquake strikes
- Create a family evacuation plan. Designate a place where all family members can meet immediately after an earthquake. Also, build an emergency survival kit that includes enough food and water to last, at minimum, three days. . The kit also should include a radio, batteries, water-proof matches, flashlights, blankets, basic tools, a First Aid Kit and copies of your insurance policies.
- Consider retrofitting your home by bolting your house to the foundation and securing heavy furniture and appliances, like strapping your hot water heater to the wall and attaching bookcases to the wall. For more information about how to prepare your home for an earthquake, visit the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s Homeowners Guide to Earthquake Retrofit.
- Check for potential fire hazards. Defective electrical writing and leaky gas connections are very dangerous in the event of an earthquake.
- Know where and how to shut off electricity, gas and water at main switches and valves. Check with your local utilities office for instructions.
- Deep plaster cracks should be inspected. Such cracks, especially on ceilings, could result in large pieces of heavy plaster falling and causing injury.
- Consider Earthquake Insurance for your home. Check with your insurance company, agent or specialty carrier such as GeoVera to find out about your coverage options.
- Damage to vehicles caused by earthquake is covered, but only if you added optional Comprehensive Coverage to your auto policy.
During an earthquake
- When an earthquake strikes, remain indoors and use the internationally recognized protocol: “Drop to the ground, Cover by getting under a sturdy desk or table and Hold on until the shaking stops.”
- If you’re driving when an earthquake hits, drive slowly to the side of the road, stop and set the parking brake. A car may jiggle violently on its springs during an earthquake, but it is a good place to stay until the shaking stops. When you drive on, watch for hazards created by the earthquake, like fallen or falling objects, downed electric wires or broken undermined roadways.
- Do not run to another room to get under a desk or table if one isn’t near you. Instead, drop to the ground in an inside corner of the building and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.
- If you’re in a high-rise building, get under a desk or similar heavy furniture. Do not dash for exits, since stairways may be broken and jammed with people. Never use elevators since the power may fail.
- If you’re in a crowded store or building, do not rush for a doorway since hundreds may have the same idea. If you must leave the building, choose your exit as carefully as possible.
- If you’re outdoors, move away from buildings and utility wires. The greatest danger from falling debris is just outside doorways and close to out walls. Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops.
After an earthquake
- Be prepared for additional "aftershocks". Although most of these are smaller than the main shock, some may be large enough to cause additional damage.
- Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.
- Turn on your radio or television to get the latest emergency bulletins and instructions from local authorities.
- Check utilities. Earth movement may have broken gas, electrical and water lines. If you smell gas, open windows and shut off the main gas valve. Then leave the building and report gas leakage to authorities. Do not re-enter the building until a utility official says it is safe. If electrical wiring is shorting out, shut off current at the main meter box. If water pipes are damaged, shut off the supply at the main valve. You can get emergency water from such sources as hot water tanks, toilet tanks, and melted ice cubes.
- Make sure sewage lines are intact before permitting continued flushing of toilets.
- Carefully check chimneys for cracks and damage. Unnoticed damage could lead to fire.
- Do not touch downed power lines or objects touched by downed lines.
- If power is off, check your freezer and plan meals to use foods that spoil quickly.
- Stay out of severely damaged buildings. Aftershocks can shake them down.
The Pacific Northwest has a history of earthquakes and the potential for one happening anywhere and at any time. For state-specific earthquake information, visit these sites: