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Disaster Response in the Dark: What an Earthquake Could Do to your Cell Phone

Recent wildfires in California caused widespread cellphone outages. Some residents were unable to make or receive calls for several days. These interruptions coincided with the planned power shut-offs at the time when people would need their cellphones most for evacuation warnings and communication with loved ones. If you think about disaster response without communication, you realize how scary this truly can be.

It wasn’t just cellphones. Some had issues with landline phone service through their broadband internet provider — furthermore, some experienced issues for traditional copper-based landline phones.

Emergency and disaster response teams had to rely on radio communications, which created extra traffic during an emergency.  

Concerns about these interruptions and outages are not limited to wildfires. When the next earthquake strikes, the communication network is not prepared to handle the response. 

There aren’t any federal or state regulations that require backup power for cell service. The next Big One could knock out power to the infrastructure, and cell companies are unprepared to respond. Landlines are not only unreliable but also challenging to find when an earthquake impacts an entire area. 

Radio is the most reliable method of communication after a significant event. After the Kincade fire, the radio became the primary source of communication. While cell companies are unprepared, that doesn’t mean you can’t get prepared. 

Get prepared today for the next earthquake. Read up on best practices and have your emergency supplies ready. The next Big One is coming, and it’s not a matter of if, but when it will strike. 

Disasters can disrupt cell phones for disaster response.
Earthquakes and other events can interrupt disaster response communications.

Earthquake Early Warning System Tested after a Spike of Seismic Activity

Multiple Channels of Earthquake Communications
Technology helps to improve earthquake preparation and response.

Recent fires in California have everyone on high alert for disaster. Fortunately, residents have been able to get live fire updates with the use of text subscriptions, social media, and real-time maps. These updates are crucial for when a disaster, like an earthquake or wildfire, strikes. 

So how can residents be better prepared before a destructive earthquake strikes? Scientists aren’t able to predict the next big earthquake. Research is working towards that goal, but we may never be able to pinpoint when the Big One is coming. We can only prepare as if it could happen at any time. 

After years of anticipation, authorities unveiled the California Earthquake Early Warning System this month. In fact, the system was announced on the thirtieth anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. 

There will be warnings issued in two ways to help with earthquake response communications: a mobile app called MyShake and through Amber Alerts. With this combination, the warning system can reach a wider audience. It combines smartphone technology with traditional methods of communication.

This isn’t about responding after the quake, either. That’s what makes this announcement so exciting: the system is one step closer to anticipating an earthquake. It uses seismic monitoring sensors across the state to quickly alert residents before the ground begins to shake. 

Residents will have the chance to “drop, cover, and hold on” moments before the shaking starts. It could give people anywhere between a second to tens of seconds to brace for the shaking, and that could save lives.

The California Earthquake Early Warning System was tested last month when a spike of seismic activity activated in the San Francisco Bay Area and Central California. Two earthquakes, one in Pleasant Hill and another in Hollister, jolted with quakes larger than 4 magnitude. Alerts were sent out seconds before people felt the shaking. While it’s not a perfect system, the outlook is bright for the future. 

Fault Lines Are Creeping in California

It’s all too perfect that there is new, creepy activity happening in the California fault lines just before Halloween. 

California fault lines could be a threat to your house.
Are you prepared, or will the next earthquake spook you?

Recent California Earthquakes

In recent weeks, California has had an uptick in seismic activity, some of which experts have linked to a creeping section of the San Andreas fault system. Most recently, Pleasant Hill and Hollister both experienced magnitude 4.5 and 4.7 earthquakes, respectively. 

To have two 4.5 magnitude quakes in one week in California is a little unusual.

New Movement in the Fault Lines

At the same time, for the first time on record, the Garlock Fault has been moving. This fault houses the potential to produce a magnitude 8 earthquake, and this “creeping” is a by-product of the Ridgecrest earthquakes in July. With the heightened concern about the San Andreas faultline and the “Big One” coming, new or unprecedented activity is enough to catch the attention of seismic experts

The Garlock Fault’s movement is known as “creep”: meaning that it is moving at a slow, continuous pace. Creep is typical among California faults, and creep could also trigger an earthquake nearby. The San Andreas fault has often had spells of creeping in reaction to other nearby earthquakes.  Scientists are especially concerned about the San Andreas’s potential for disaster, but that’s not to say it’s the only cause for concern.

Can creeping fault lines cause earthquakes?

Fault lines are more closely tied together than you would imagine. A seismic event can ripple out and influence the delicate web of fault lines around it. Earthquakes of all sizes are a reality for California life, and what could set off the domino effect is unclear. This rise in seismic activity serves as an important reminder: 

It’s best to assume the Big One could happen at any time, and it’s essential to be ready for it.

The earthquake drought of California will end, but when?

California faces more than a lack of rain. The Los Angeles Times declared that California is in an earthquake drought, and the end of the drought will bring destructive results.

Map of Southern California with active earthquake faults
Low levels of earthquake activity is a high risk for California

When Will the Next Big Earthquake Strike?

In this L.A. Times article, experts paint a clear (and unsettling) picture of a big quake waiting to happen. In fact, California earthquakes are inevitable. We don’t know when or where, but we do know that an earthquake will happen:

“Earthquakes must happen at some point to relieve the immense tectonic forces that are pushing part of the state northwest toward Alaska and the rest southeast toward Mexico.”

L.A. TIMES

While it could be nice to say this drought is good news–who doesn’t like a break from earthquakes, right? –it isn’t. A drought means that there has been more time for tension to build up in the earth’s crust without a way to relieve the tension:

“[There may be periods] where things get kind of all locked up and no earthquakes happen for a while. You store a lot of strain in the Earth’s crust. Once it gets going, it’s like a set of dominoes. You might get multiple events if you have enough strain energy stored in the crust because it’s been a long time since an earthquake.”

Tom Jordan, USC Professor

The New Earthquake Era

Grass growing through a crack in the paved road
Can California handle the earthquake threat below the surface?

This drought also means that Californians aren’t necessarily prepared for a large-scale quake. The last California earthquake that was greater than 7 magnitude was in 1857. The 6.7 magnitude Northridge quake was in 1994 and the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta quake was in 1989. There are people alive today who have no personal experience with earthquakes of this size, and there isn’t anyone alive today that would have experienced a California quake as big as the earthquake of 1857.

First-hand experience of a major earthquake tragically brings awareness to the forefront, and few Californians have that experience. Earthquakes almost seem like a myth to some people in California despite the major earthquakes the Loma Prieta and Northridge quakes and other quakes that have struck other countries in recent years. Only 10% of California homeowners have earthquake insurance coverage, and many of those homeowners live within thirty miles of an active fault.

Experts say that it’s important to be prepared. There is, potentially, an entirely new era of earthquakes looming ahead with more frequent (or destructive) events.

What does that new era look like? Are you prepared for the end of the drought? Now is the time to ask yourself these questions and get prepared.

Earthquake Insurance: Who Has It and Who Needs It

Today we are going to talk about the sticky subject of earthquake insurance. We touched on this a little bit in our Financial Preparedness series, including best earthquake insurance practices, but we are going to go a bit more in-depth on for this update.

One of the most commonly asked questions is, “Do I need earthquake insurance?” The answer is not simple. Just like your house isn’t like everyone else’s, what to expect from an earthquake insurance policy (or even your homeowners insurance policy) is unique to your situation. Hopefully, after reading, you’ll have a better understanding of what to consider when shopping for financial products to secure your money and your life.

Is your house at risk for earthquake damage?
Is your home an investment or a risk?

Who needs earthquake insurance?

As we discussed in our article Best Insurance Practices, it really depends on you. Earthquake insurance coverage isn’t required by your lender or by the state. Technically, all fifty states in America are at risk for earthquakes, but there are some states where earthquakes are more likely, more frequent, or more powerful. If you live in one of these states, like Washington, Oregon, or California, the decision to get earthquake insurance should be carefully considered.

You’re well aware of the risks that come with living in one of these Western states. Look anywhere–social media, the news, a quick Google search–and you’ll quickly see how frequent seismic activity is, even if you don’t always feel the quake. Some states may also experience an unexpected rise in seismic activity due to natural or manmade changes to the landscape and the environment.

Either way, you need to know how fault lines can increase your risk and how you plan to respond to that risk. If you’re familiar with your risk factor remember, just like with the Napa earthquake of 2014, some fault lines are either undiscovered, seemingly inactive, or connected to other faults that may cause a chain reaction. Earthquake science isn’t an exact science with predictions, so take this data with some caution.

One massive earthquake can be devastating. Earthquake prep usually brings to mind preparing for physical safety, but not as many people remember the financial recovery. Small earthquakes may not be much to worry about, but one moderate-to-large sized earthquake can be devastating enough to do some costly damage to your home. That’s where insurance makes a difference.

Do I need earthquake insurance?

Earthquake insurance, just like any insurance policy, functions as a way to cover the cost of something you wouldn’t usually pay for out of pocket. Generally speaking, if you own more of your house than you owe on it, or you’re counting on your equity to be a significant investment for your finances, you should give earthquake insurance a serious thought. Like a horrible episode of a home renovation television show, you’ll be possibly living in renovation and repair purgatory indefinitely without a safety net and with neighborhood comps that are also damaged or destroyed.

The tradeoff is a monthly premium in favor of saving hundreds of thousands of dollars after a giant quake strikes your area. Stay tuned–we’ll cover more on how earthquake insurance works next week!

Where can I get earthquake insurance?

Your Homeowners Insurance Carrier

Let’s be clear: your homeowners insurance policy does not cover earthquake damage. If you’re tired of hearing it, many people still are in the dark on this one. However, there are plenty of providers that can help you meet your financial goals with an earthquake insurance policy.

A great first place to search may be your current homeowners insurance provider. Ask your carrier or your insurance agent if an earthquake insurance policy can be added or if you are a good fit for a stand-alone earthquake insurance policy. If you live in California, the law requires that home insurance carriers also offer earthquake coverage. While you may feel more comfortable going with a carrier you already know, don’t stop your search here.

Does my homeowners insurance carrier offer earthquake insurance?

Some homeowners insurance carriers either don’t like to write earthquake insurance business or aren’t well-designed to handle the risk. Those carriers will price their earthquake insurance policies accordingly, and you’ll pay more to cater to their level of expertise, risk, and overall pool of other policyholders.

Likewise, their experience with catastrophic-risk claims is limited. Not only do some homeowners insurance carriers design and rate their earthquake policies to reflect their reluctance, but they may also structure their claims process like their homeowners claims process. Natural disasters like earthquakes can impact large areas all at once, so this means potentially a huge influx of claims of various amounts will hit the homeowners insurance carrier at the same time. In some cases, this can overwhelm an insurance carrier that doesn’t specialize in this type of insurance.

For these reasons, your homeowners insurance carrier may not offer the best deal for you, so be sure to look around and carefully consider all of your options before settling on this one. Choosing an earthquake insurance carrier requires a bit of research, but the benefits are considerable when you secure something that fits your lifestyle and your budget.

State Earthquake Insurance Providers

A second place to check for earthquake insurance is state-managed groups. There are states, such as California, where residents can purchase coverage through a privately funded but publicly managed provider. In California, in order to be eligible, one must be a policyholder of a participating insurer.

Private Earthquake Insurance Carriers

A third place to check for earthquake insurance is a private earthquake insurance provider. In California, Oregon, and Washington, residents can secure earthquake insurance coverage through GeoVera Insurance Company, Coastal Select Insurance Company, and several other carriers. These carriers specialize in earthquake risk and are subject to the same guidelines, financial reviews, and operational standards of homeowner insurance carriers.

How Do I Pick an Earthquake Insurance Policy?

It is essential to shop around, get quotes from various carriers, and weigh your options carefully. Not only should you look at the premium, but read to see what you’re getting with your coverage and if it will work for you in the event of an earthquake. If you’re not sure what you need or you want a second opinion, try talking to your insurance agent (or find an earthquake insurance agent here) to get expert advice. 

Now that we have covered who needs earthquake insurance and where to find it, we will take you through the anatomy of an earthquake policy. What does a policy cover?  How does a deductible work and how is my premium calculated?  What are the pros and cons of a private insurance carrier compared to a state-managed carrier? These questions and more are answered in our next update. Stay tuned!