Preparing for an Earthquake

Earthquake damage to a home

California and Alaska are where most people think of when discussing earthquakes. But the fact is that they can occur anywhere. Over the last century, 39 states have experienced earthquakes, about 5,000 each year. As urban areas in active earthquake areas grow, the cost of earthquake damage increases. Especially in areas where older buildings were not built with earthquakes in mind.

Is Earthquake Insurance an Option?

While earthquakes are not covered under standard homeowners or business insurance policies, coverage is still available in the form of an endorsement. California homeowners can get coverage from the California Earthquake Authority (CEA), though most residents haven’t secured coverage.

Standard home and business insurance covers damages that may occur from earthquakes such as fire and water damage. But for insurance protection from shaking and cracking, you’ll need a specific earthquake endorsement.

Deductibles for earthquakes range from 2% to 20% of the replacement value of the structure. The standard CEA policy includes a deductible that is 15% of the home’s replacement cost. Other states with a higher than average risk of earthquakes — think Washington, Nevada, and Utah — often set the deductible at 10% as a minimum. But, like most insurance policies, raising the deductible can save some money on your premium.

How to Prepare for an Earthquake

There’s no such thing as “earthquake season” or “earthquake warnings. They can happen almost anywhere and at any time. Earthquakes, especially those in places where they are less common, can cause quite a bit of unexpected damage, which is why preparation is key. These simple steps can help reduce property damage and help protect you and your family from disaster.

Inside Preparations

Earthquakes can cause many kinds of injuries. A 2017 study showed that the most common cause for death during an earthquake is due to being struck by an object. The shaking of the walls and foundations can cause things to fall and fly about, so some preparation can help.

  • Anchor bookcases and filing cabinets to nearby walls.
  • Secure large appliances, such as water heaters, to walls using straps.
  • Install ledge barriers on shelves and 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 out.

The Structure of the House

If you live in an area with a known risk of earthquakes, you may want to take some additional external precautions. Ensuring the structure of your home is reinforced and strong enough to withstand an earthquake. If the structural elements of your home need reinforcing, you can consider investing in some of the most important and common retrofits:

  • Anchor bolts or steel plates can be added between your home and the foundation.
  • Use sheathing to brace the inside of your home's cripple wall.
  • Consider bracing unreinforced chimneys, masonry, and concrete walls, as well as foundations.

The most important thing to consider about preparing for earthquakes is that they can happen anywhere at any time. In the middle of the country, on the east coast, and definitely on the west coast. Make sure you are prepared both in your home and with your insurance coverage.