Earthquakes

Living in California means living with earthquakes.  Be aware and take precautions before, during, and after an earthquake event.

MEASURING MAGNITUDE

The severity of an earthquake can be described in its magnitude and intensity, with its energy being measured with the Richter scale.  Each whole number on the Richter scale is an increase of 10 times in the measure of the amplitude of an earthquake.  An 8.0 magnitude quake is not twice as large at a 4.0, rather it is 10,000 times as large.

Richter Magnitude

  • Less than 3, generally felt only by instruments.
  • 3-3.9: can be felt indoors.
  • 4-4.9: can be felt by most people, with slight damage being possible.
  • 5-5.9: usually felt by, people run outdoors, with minor damage being possible.
  • 5-5.9: felt by all, with everyone running outdoors, and possible moderate damage
  • 6-7.9:  major damage
  • 8 & up: Total and major damage

PLANNING AHEAD

It is a good idea for the HMO to have a Disaster Management Plan that includes that includes earthquake planning.

  • Planning Committees. These should be comprised of one board member, the manager, a local fire official, an insurance representative and the associations' maintenance company.  They should discuss budgets to cover the costs of uninsured property damage and other contingencies.  Another important topic is the insurance coverage, which should be reviewed annually.
  • Communication Planning. Informing the membership before a disaster strikes of the efforts to induct a disaster management plan is essential.  Creating guidelines for action during and after a disaster and communicating these to the membership will save lives and property.  Even consider a meeting to discuss your disaster management plan with everyone involved.
  • Document Planning.  Keeping sets of important documents in two or more locations will be vital.  Consider the importance of having information on the disaster committee, the emergency numbers, insurance claims checklists and governmental agencies, such as Red Cross and FEMA.  Keeping all of this information at the management company, on-site at the community and in one other location will prevent confusion.
  • Response Teams.  Two or more teams should be organized to handle emergencies.  One team could respond to the immediate issues on the ground, like first aide, and another team can inspect property for damage.

QUAKE SAFETY TIPS

The following are simple safety tips that everyone can follow:

Before

  • Teach everyone over 10 years old how to turn off utilities.
  • Learn first aid.
  • Designate contact person living at least 300 miles away.
  • Develop exit plan, including meeting place outside house. Plan how family members away from home will contact each other.
  • Coordinate with neighbors.
  • Make plans for disabled.

During: If You Are Inside

  • Stay inside.
  • Cover your head. 
  • Stay away from windows and glass.
  • Stay calm.
  • Stay out of elevators and stairways.

If You Are Outside:

  • Stay away from tall buildings.
  • Move to an open area.
  • Avoid falling debris by standing in strong doorway.

After:

  • Put on heavy-soled shoes, work gloves.
  • Check for injured, trapped people.
  • Pay special attention to your water heater and furnace and turn off your gas supply if there is a leak.
  • Also check for water leaks, broken wiring and sewage lines.
  • Avoid downed power line.
  • Be careful abut opening cupboards and closets.
  • Stay off telephone.
  • Don't drink tap water.
  • Check on your neighbors.

INSURANCE

Basic Information:

  • Your basic homeowner's policy DOES NOT cover earthquake damage.
  • Private carriers will offer earthquake insurance.  This is catastrophic coverage, so most policies carry a very high deductible -- usually 10 percent of 5 percent of the value of the house. That's generally the amount of damage that you must pay before the insurance kicks in.
  • Areas are graded on a 1-5 scale for likelihood of quakes, and these zones may be reflected in insurance rates offered to homeowners in those areas.
  • Wood homes get better rates than brick ones because they withstand quake stresses better than brittle brick structures.
  • In some areas, you can get an earthquake endorsement to your homeowner's policy rather than a separate policy. Ask your agent or state insurance department for details.
  • You should find out your rights for filing claims before you sign on the dotted line for earthquake coverage. It's especially important to know how much time following a quake you have to file a claim because some earthquake damage may not be apparent for some time.

Paraphrased from Western States Insurance Information Service. Ask these following questions of your agent before buying:

1. Why should I buy earthquake insurance? Is there another way for me to replace my insurance if I don't have earthquake insurance?

2. Is the earthquake insurance coverage additional to my existing homeowners policy of do I have to buy a separate policy?

3. What does earthquake insurance cover?

4. How much earthquake insurance coverage should I buy?

5. How much does it cost?

6. Will the coverage I buy apply to the combined value of my house (the structure itself) and the contents of my home (furniture, clothing, electronic equipment, collections, etc.) or should I evaluate my potential losses separately?

7. Does the policy have a guaranteed replacement cost coverage? If so, how would this coverage apply if I suffer a loss?

8. I own a condominium. How would earthquake insurance benefit me? (Ask specifically if the insurance would be covered if you are forced to vacate the premises for safety reasons)

9. I'm a renter. How would earthquake insurance benefit me? (Ask specifically if additional living expenses would be covered if you are forced to vacate the premises for safety reasons).

10. What bout my car- would that be covered by earthquake insurance?

11. What about other structures- the garage for instance? Are they covered by the same policy or will I need to get another or a rider?

12. How much is the deductible?

13. Is the deductible for my earthquake insurance coverage different from the deductible for my basic homeowners insurance coverage?

14. How is the deductible on my earthquake insurance coverage going to be calculated in the event of a loss? Will a separate deductible apply to the structure, contents, and detached structures, or does one deductible apply to the entire loss?

15. If I have to vacate my home, will earthquake insurance cover the hotel expenses? If so, for how long?

16. Is breakage of fragile articles covered if I purchase earthquake insurance? Is there a better way to cover these items (i.e. specifically scheduling)? If so, explain how this works to my benefit

17. Does the type of home I live in (brick, veneer, masonry affect the way earthquake coverage will respond? Does it cost more if I own a masonry/brick home that an A frame home?

18. Does the earthquake policy exclude certain repairs?

19. How long do I have to wait after an earthquake before I file a claim?

20. What about aftershocks attributable to the original quake- would I be covered for resulting damages without another deductible?

21. Are there additional "endorsements" to the earthquake coverage that I should also consider- building code upgrades, structural report coverage, demolition, etc? If so, explain how purchasing endorsements might benefit me.

WHEN IN A DEFECT LAWSUIT

If you or your HOA are in a defect lawsuit, follow the tips below to document the damage, and protect your interests:

  • Photograph/video all damage inside the units/homes.
  • Photograph/video all damage in the common areas.
  • Contact the property management professional and defect counsel to report life-safety concerns.
  • Have your defect counsel notify the defendants if any court-ordered repairs are conducted.
  • DO NOT attempt permanent repairs on non-life-safety problems, as this would spoil evidence of the original defects.