Skip to content

Quake insurance is costly but can be great benefit


The ongoing swarm of earthquakes that began on the July 4th holiday in Ridgecrest has many wondering how to prepare for the inevitable “big one.” While the experts cannot fully predict when an earthquake will occur, proper advance preparation can be essential in keeping you and your family safe during an emergency.

For the past several years, the California Earthquake Authority (CEA) has worked with other earthquake-preparedness organizations to increase awareness of earthquake risk, and to educate the public about the importance of planning for the next damaging earthquake. CEA representatives have spoken to the media, presented at community events, and talked with thousands of individuals.

And Californians are getting the message. Recent news articles in major newspapers have covered the topic of earthquake safety, underscoring the inevitability of a big earthquake, and providing important information about how to prepare.

“The first thing we do is tell people to buy earthquake insurance,” said Jarrett Barrios of the American Red Cross. He added that while earthquake insurance is not included in your typical homeowner’s insurance policy—and can be pricey—it is well worth it to have this coverage.

California has experienced a number of major earthquakes during the past few decades, including the Northridge, Loma Prieta, Sylmar, and Coalinga temblors. Going farther back, the Long Beach earthquake (1933) and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 are constant reminders what we reside in “earthquake country” and must remain vigilant in case of emergency.

Scientists tell us there’s a greater than 99-percent chance that a magnitude 6.7 or larger quake will strike California within the next 30 years. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

So how do you make sure you’re ready? Here are some initial steps you can take now to prepare for the next big earthquake:

—When an earthquake strikes, keep calm and do not panic. Know how to drop, cover, and hold on when the shaking starts.

— If you’re indoors, either stay where you are or move to safe location such as under a strong desk, a strong table (but not in a doorway). The idea is to protect yourself from falling objects. Do not stand near windows, large mirrors, hanging objects or heavy furniture.

—If you are in a high-rise building, take the stairs down. Do not take the elevator or escalator.

—If you are at home cooking, turn off the stove and take cover. If the lights go out and you smell a gas leak, do not use candles, matches or other open flames.

—If you are outdoors, move to an open area (away from tall buildings, power lines and trees). Once in the open, remain there until the shaking stops.

—Pack two emergency supply kits—one for your house, one for your car.

—Develop an earthquake safety plan for the entire family.

For details on these and other lifesaving tips, visit earthquake preparedness sites like FEMA, the American Red Cross, and California Earthquake Authority (CEA).

Many people don’t know that homeowners and renters policies do not cover earthquake damage. CEA representative Chris Nance said Californians should purchase a separate earthquake insurance policy, or they may be responsible for 100 percent of the cost to repair their homes and replace their belongings after a damaging earthquake occurs.

But how do you find the right coverage for your home? After all, your needs will vary depending on whether you own or rent, and whether you live in a house, condo, or mobilehome.

CEA has different policies for each type of living situation. They also offer a variety of coverage options, with deductibles ranging from 5 percent to 25 percent. As well, CEA has policies to replace damaged goods, and you can receive coverage to pay for a motel/hotel room if your home can no longer be occupied or “reg tagged.”

The typical earthquake insurance application may may inquire:

—Does your home have steps leading up to the front door? If so, it sits on a raised foundation.

—Was your home constructed prior to 1980? If so, it could be especially vulnerable to earthquake damage. Such houses can slide off their foundations during a large earthquake. If this happens to your house, it could take years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to make your home safe and livable again.

A seismic retrofit can be an effective way to protect an older, wood-frame house.

The typical earthquake retrofit costs about $3,000 to $6,000. Fortunately, there are grants available to qualified homeowners to help pay for seismic retrofits. The CEA can refer California residents to grants of up to $3,000 for those residing in so-called “high-risk” ZIP codes particularly vulnerable to earthquake damage.

In addition, CEA has its own retrofit grant program, CEA Brace + Bolt (CEA BB), just for qualified policyholders. Like EBB, CEA’s program provides grants of up to $3,000 to help pay for retrofitting older, wood-frame houses on raised foundations in specific higher-earthquake-risk ZIP Codes.

If you own a house built before 1980, consider getting it retrofitted. Doing so will help protect your family and save you thousands of dollars in possible repair costs. And, if you’re a CEA policyholder, it will also qualify you to save up to 25 percent (starting July 1, 2019) on your CEA policy premiums.