California quakes: Is your home on shaky ground?

By Posted : 08/10/2012

earthquake insurance The cluster of earthquakes that rocked the Yorba Linda area in Southern California this week again puts a spotlight on insurance designed to protect your home from these natural disasters.

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Peter Moraga, a spokesman for the non-profit Insurance Information Network of California (IINC), points out that only 12 percent of California homeowners have earthquake coverage. (See: "5 free ways to prep your home for disaster.")

"It's an alarming number," he says. "People have to remember that California is earthquake country and the danger is always there. Some people think the coverage may be too expensive or they just think that an earthquake won't happen to them. But they really need to think again."

A 4.5 quake struck about a mile north of Yorba Linda (nearly 40 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles) on Tuesday at around 11:30 p.m. That was followed almost immediately by a 2.0 aftershock. A second quake, also a 4.5, hit Wednesday morning at about 9:30 a.m.

Since then, seismologists say about 30 more aftershocks have rumbled through. The main quakes and small shakers jangled residents' nerves but didn't cause any significant damage, according to authorities.

Is an early-detection device on the way?

In a related development, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena said this week that progress continues in developing an earthquake warning system.

Doug Given, a USGS seismologist, said at a press conference on the Caltech campus that Caltech's warning system was triggered nine seconds before the first Yorba Linda earthquake. The system gives an audible alert, shows a countdown timer and estimates the quake's severity.

"In the case of the first event, here in Pasadena we got about nine seconds warning before the strongest shaking was felt here," he said. "In the case of the second quake, it was a little bit less, about four seconds warning."

Despite the system's advances, Given said it's still in the early stages and not ready for wide-spread or commercial use. "It's also rather fragile at this point because it's built on the older technologies and with the very limited funding that the USGS currently has," he said.

Earthquake insurance: what's covered, the cost

Moraga points out that a standard homeowners policy does not include earthquake protection. You have to pay extra for it, with an average cost of about $800 to $850 above your normal premium, he says. (See: "Earthquake insurance can put you on solid ground.")

But Moraga adds that the coverage could be less or much more (even above $3,000 extra) depending on several factors, including how close you live to an earthquake fault line and what materials were used to build your house. A structure built from wood, which is more flexible and able to resist an earthquake's force, may warrant a less expensive policy than one built of stone or brick, he says.

The coverage usually comes with a standard deductible of 15 percent, Moraga adds. So, if you had a $300,000 home and insure it for that amount, you'd receive 85 percent (or about $255,000) of its original value to pay for construction costs. Or you could buy extra insurance to cover all rebuilding costs and just not the property's current value, he says.

Moraga also points out that homeowners living in a disaster area may qualify for FEMA grants of up to $30,000 to help rebuild.

Moraga says you should consider several factors when considering earthquake insurance:

  • Do you live in a region prone to frequent earthquakes?
  • Is an active fault located close to your house?
  • Consider the type of ground beneath your house - sandy soil and fill areas comprise a higher risk for damage to the dwelling.
  • Are the walls and foundations properly braced?
  • What materials were used to build your home? Wood-frames may incur less damage than stone or brick.
  • The age of your home -- older homes have higher risks for damages.

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