California gets closer to the big – Forbes Advisor

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Ridgecrest residents inspect a recent fault rupture following two large earthquakes in the area on July 7, 2019, near Ridgecrest, California.

No one can predict for sure when the next massive earthquake – aka “The Big One” – will rock Southern California. But new research suggests it may be sooner than we previously thought. Disaster preparedness experts fear Californians may not be prepared for a colossal earthquake, especially when it comes to insurance.

“Because large earthquakes don’t happen very frequently, many people don’t think about them often or don’t fully understand the risks,” says Glenn Pomeroy, CEO of the California Earthquake Authority (CEA), the largest supplier. state residential earthquake insurance.

Pomeroy notes that most Californians live within 30 miles of one of the state’s more than 500 active faults, including the recently discovered ones. With nearly 40 million people, California is the most populous state in the country.

“The biggest obstacle may be yourself” in earthquake preparedness, says Jason Ballmann, communications manager at the Southern California Earthquake Center.

The threat has been recalculated

According to a study published last October by geophysicists at Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the last major earthquakes in the state were the twin Ridgecrest earthquakes in Southern California in July 2019. The quakes earth exposed a “network” of 20 previously undiscovered small earthquake faults that contributed to the Ridgecrest event.

Additionally, the Ridgecrest magnitude 6.4 and 7.1 earthquakes and more than 100 aftershocks strained the nearby Garlock Fault.

When the study was published, Zachary Ross, assistant professor of geophysics at the California Institute of Technology and lead author of the study, warned: “We can’t just assume that the larger faults dominate the seismic risk if many smaller faults can create these major earthquakes.

Translation: The threat of The Big One could be greater than anyone imagined.

Small flaws

As Ross and his colleagues explained, it is generally believed that major earthquakes are triggered by the rupture of a long fault, such as the approximately 800 mile San Andreas fault, and not by a network of faults.

Because the Ridgecrest earthquakes, which rocked an isolated desert region in southern California, causing little damage and no fatalities, increased stress on the Garlock fault, this fault is now about 100 times more likely to cause a larger earthquake than before the Ridgecrest earthquakes. That’s according to a study published in July in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

Due to the connection between the Garlock Fault and the San Andreas Fault, the study suggests a probability of 50 to 50 that a Garlock earthquake within 30 miles of the San Andreas would lead to an earthquake in this area. known as the Mojave segment of the San Andreas. south end. The study’s authors put the chance of an earthquake in southern San Andreas at 1% by July 2021.

The Los Angeles metro area borders the southern strip of San Andreas, and the northern strip crosses the San Francisco Bay Area. As a result, millions of Californians live along a fault line responsible for some of the state’s biggest earthquakes.

An epic disaster

Of course, not all of this research proves The Big One is imminent. But when it does, it promises to be an epic disaster.

Experts define The Big One as an earthquake of at least a 7.8 magnitude along the southern part of the San Andreas Fault. This earthquake is said to be 44 times stronger than the Northridge earthquake in Southern California in 1994, which left 72 people dead, injured around 9,000 and estimated $ 25 billion in damage.

In 2008, a group of scientists, engineers and others predicted that The Big One would cause more than 1,800 deaths, 50,000 injuries and $ 200 billion in damage and other losses.

A science forecast published in 2014 put the probability of at least one California earthquake of magnitude 7.5 or greater at 48% in the next 30 years. The probability drops to 7% for one or more earthquakes to 8 or more. Distributed by region, the percentages are higher for the Los Angeles area than for the San Francisco area.

Regardless of where a massive earthquake could strike, experts worry about one of the big flaws in the preparation: the low number of Californians carrying earthquake insurance. Standard tenants and home insurance policies do not cover earthquakes.

In 2019, only about 14% of home insurance policies in California had earthquake coverage, according to the state Department of Insurance. In total, more than 1.6 million earthquake policies were in force statewide last year (through CEA and other insurers).

Pomeroy, CEO of the California Earthquake Authority, said his group has seen a dramatic increase in purchases of earthquake insurance since 2016. Today, CEA insures more than 1.1 million homes and supplies approximately two-thirds of the state’s residential earthquake coverage.

“Although purchases of earthquake insurance have increased, there is still not enough penetration of earthquake insurance in California,” Pomeroy said. “Because large-scale and destructive earthquakes do not happen very often, many people do not perceive the risks or take steps to prepare for them. “

“This still means that north of 80% of homes in the state will not have insurance funds to make repairs after an earthquake. This is not a good thing, ”says Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a consumer advocacy group.

Don’t buy it

Why aren’t more California homeowners buying earthquake insurance? One important reason: the cost. In 2019, the annual CEA residential earthquake coverage premium averaged $ 727. For policies from other insurers, the average annual premium was $ 874.

On top of that, the deductible for a CEA home insurance policy ranges from 5% to 25% of a home’s coverage amount. For example, a 5% deductible for a home covered at $ 500,000 would be $ 25,000. With this deductible, if you file a claim to cover $ 80,000 in earthquake damage and it is approved, your payment would be $ 55,000. This would leave the owner $ 25,000 to repair the damage.

Because of the premiums and deductibles, Bach says that when you buy earthquake insurance, you are essentially buying catastrophic coverage in case a Major the earthquake damages or destroys your home. Yet, she adds, United Policyholders encourages people to take out earthquake insurance if they can afford it.

“We don’t talk enough about the financial implications. Hundreds of thousands of people could become immediately homeless after an earthquake in the Bay Area or in Southern California, ”says Ballmann of the Southern California Earthquake Center.

Getting ready for the big

In addition to purchasing earthquake insurance, experts offer these recommendations for preparing for The Big One (or any other earthquake, for that matter):

  • Participate in the Large ShakeOut earthquake exercise, which takes place every year on the third Thursday in October. Exercise 2020 will take place at 10:15 a.m. on October 15, with organizers expecting many to virtually join this year. Last year’s Great ShakeOut exercise in California drew 10.8 million participants.
  • Do earthquake exercises throughout the year. October isn’t the only time for exercise, according to Ballmann. In a one-minute seismic exercise, you practice three safety measures. First of all, you immediately fall on your hands and knees. Then you cover your head and neck and crawl under a nearby table. Finally, you hold until the shaking stops.
  • Download the MyShake application, which provides an early warning of an earthquake in California. The app was released in 2019. In August, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a partnership with Google to integrate early warning technology into Android phones.
  • Secure your personal belongings. Ballmann recommends securing bookcases and other heavy furniture to your walls so they won’t tip over during an earthquake. He also suggests moving heavy items from the upper shelves to the lower shelves to prevent them from turning into dangerous projectiles, and applying museum putty to the bottom of glass, porcelain, and ceramic items that could shatter in falling.
  • Register with CEA Earthquake + Bolt Program. The program provides eligible homeowners with grants of $ 3,000 to offset the cost of a seismic renovation of their home. An owner does not need to be one of the CEA policyholders to participate. Pomeroy says the program has enabled nearly 12,000 renovations. “We estimate that over a million older homes in high-risk areas of California need a simple renovation of braces and bolts to help keep the home on its foundation when the ground shakes,” he says. .

The worry is usually short-lived

Ballmann says when an earthquake hits it prompts Californians to discuss earthquake preparedness – and they might even put together disaster preparedness kits – “but earthquakes don’t necessarily motivate people. to prepare in a sustainable and resilient manner “.

This long-term preparation should include the adoption of the seven-step seismic safety plan described by the Earthquake Country Alliance, he says.

“Unfortunately,” Pomeroy says, “most Californians are probably not as prepared as they could be, given that scientists say a devastating earthquake could strike at any time.”

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