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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!

Disaster App Takeover: Digital Preparedness for Earthquakes

Is it possible for a disaster app on your smartphone to warn you about an earthquake before it happens?

The April 5th, 2018 5.3 magnitude Los Angeles quake is proof of that possibility. Those who had signed up for the Quake Alert disaster app reported a warning thirty seconds before the shaking started. Likewise, early warning systems warned Mexico residents sixty seconds before the 8-magnitude earthquake last September. The science may not be perfect yet, but these warnings could prevent some injuries and give first-responders an edge.

Every Disaster App You Need for Before, During, and After the Quake.

There are dozens of natural disaster apps out there to help you in a bind or warn you about dangers. You’ll need at least a few basics in your pocket if you live in earthquake country. Take your preparedness to the next step with this list of apps that you’ll be glad to have:

Facebook

Disaster Apps to Reconnect
Get reconnected with loved ones after a natural disaster.

Yes, Facebook is definitely somewhere to get your fill of cat videos, the latest news (real or fake), and relatable memes, but it’s also an excellent app to have after an emergency. Facebook has a Safety Check feature so that you can let your loved ones know that you’re safe after an earthquake or another natural disaster. The app will even send a push notification to remind you about this Safety Check feature based on your GPS location. As soon as you’re safe, be sure to mark yourself safe in the app.

Nextdoor

If Facebook isn’t your thing, Nextdoor is another great social media app that can help you after a disaster. Nextdoor is an online community for your neighborhood and surroundings. Officials use Nextdoor to quickly communicate crucial information to their community. You can expect to see messages from policy, sheriff’s offices, and first responders in this app. Likewise, Twitter has been used as a communication platform for emergencies.

ReUnite

An incredibly valuable app, ReUnite does just that–it helps you to reunite with loved ones if you are separated from them during a natural disaster. You can report lost or found people with a photo and their information with a few simple steps.

First Aid by American Red Cross

First Aid Disaster Apps
These disaster apps will help when you need some quick first-aid advice in a panic.

The Red Cross has developed a few apps that are great to have on hand for emergencies. One of these apps is First Aid is an absolute necessity. It gives you simple step-by-step directions on first aid response for any medical emergency, and this is crucial guidance if you live in a disaster-prone area. If there’s one disaster app you should have, it’s this one.

Ice Standard ER 911

ICE Standard ER 911 puts all your vital health and medical information on your smartphone’s lock screen. First responders can use this information even if you’re too injured to answer these questions for yourself. Some phones have this capability built into the operating software, such as the Apple “Health” app, so make sure your health profile is completed if you decide to skip on this third-party disaster app.

Pet First Aid

Let’s not forget about our furry companions! For pet owners, a mobile app that gives step-by-step instructions on how to tackle 25 common pet problems is a huge help. This app provides directions through text, video, and images, and can even locate the nearest emergency vet hospital.

Disaster Alert

Earthquake Alert Disaster Apps
These apps will help with a warning when an earthquake is coming or send an alert when you need help.

This app by the Pacific Disaster Center gives you mobile access to monitoring of natural disasters and other hazards. It also has early warning capability for hazards around the globe.

SirenGPS Mobile

This emergency app can give first responders information on your whereabouts much faster than dialing for 911 assistance. If your community uses Siren 911, emergency crews will get updates on your location, profile details, and medical information–all at the touch of one button.

Red Panic Button

This app is a fantastic addition to your smartphone, whether or not you live in an earthquake-prone area. Essentially, this app generates a message or email containing your GPS-determined coordinates to a designated panic number of your choice. Backpackers, travel-enthusiasts, and earthquake preppers alike will all be thankful to have this function added to their tools.

My Earthquake Alerts & Feed

This free earthquake disaster app provides earthquake alerts for around the world events. These alerts include earthquakes of 1.0 and up in the United States and 4.0 and up outside of the United States.

Life360

Disaster Apps for the Earthquake Aftermath
These are helpful for the short and long-term recovery.

After an earthquake or catastrophe, you’ll likely have quite a few people needing to know where you are and when you’ve gotten to safety. Once the dust has settled and you’re on your way to safety, this disaster app will track your movements and automatically send updates to your selected contacts list to let others know when you’ve arrived at your intended evacuation destination.

Zello

This disaster app allows you to use your phone as a two-way radio or walkie-talkie. You can join channels and send instant voice messages or photos using your phone’s network or WiFi connection–even with an older 2G network connection. For more information on how this app works, Business Insider provides this tour of the Zello interface and how to use it.

GasBuddy

This may be a small detail, but it’s a pretty big deal after an emergency event. You won’t be able to evacuate if you can’t find any gas to put in your car. GasBuddy helps you to locate the closest working gas pump.

FEMA Disaster App

FEMA has developed a handy disaster app that is a valuable resource after a crisis. This mobile-friendly (and free!) guide will help you find relief centers near you with access to services, shelter, and other resources for victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

Earthquake App by the American Red Cross

The Red Cross earthquake app is like the Swiss Army knife of earthquake applications. It includes step-by-step directions on what to do during and after an earthquake. Even better, these directions are available for offline use so you won’t need an internet connection to get this info at your fingertips. It also connects with the USGS earthquake alert feed to notify you if an earthquake strikes nearby. Finally, there is a safety alert feature built in that shares a message to social media and through email and text to let others know that you’re safe.

Disaster Apps are Essential to Modern-Day Earthquake Preparedness.

First responders are limited in their resources after an earthquake or another natural disaster. Smartphone technology makes it easier for them to connect with the community. When you consider your earthquake preparedness strategy, remember to include these apps as some helpful (and portable) tools in your emergency kit.

Digital Preparedness is the New Earthquake Readiness Kit

Earthquake and disaster planning often overlook digital preparedness. Conversely, it’s one of the most straightforward ways of preparing for emergencies of any kind. Above all, digital preparedness sets a goal that is both attainable and practical.

Last year we saw how critical technology is in the midst of a disaster. Hurricanes Irma and Harvey blasted through the southern United States in 2017, and disaster apps and social media networks became essential instruments during and after the hurricanes. Likewise, expect first responders and your family to reach for their smartphones and computers after an earthquake.

Beyond having the best apps for communicating with loved ones, what does it mean to have your tech ready for an emergency? Maybe you’ve spent hours printing out emergency contact lists, or you’ve carefully filed a safety deposit box, but that may be wasted effort if you can’t access that same information when you’ve evacuated your home.

Why You Need to Make Digital Preparedness your 2018 #Goals.

Rock, paper, scissors: the game of earthquake digital preparedness
Earthquake preparedness includes using all the resources you can.

A digital disaster kit only takes a day to put together, and it will save you weeks of stress after a disaster strikes your home.

Think of digital preparedness like a game of “rock, paper, scissors,” except you’ve added in “smartphone” as a fourth option. This game doesn’t work unless you have all options available to you, but each option is only the winning choice if the circumstances are just right. If you’ve started your emergency first-aid kit, that’s great–you’ve got “scissors” covered (the physical means to prepare). If you’ve started your financial first-aid kit or financial preparedness planning, you’ve got paper covered (the financial, legal, and administrative aspects of preparation). Mother Nature will bring the “rock,” and you’ll be sorely disappointed if your toolkit is lacking the brains of the operation: your smartphone.

When it comes to earthquakes, rock beats paper and scissors every time.

Digital Preparedness gives you the ability to access necessary files, documents, and information at any time and where ever you are. If an earthquake strikes and you don’t have the time to grab your data or you’re away from home, you’ve got digital copies on your phone ready for your use. Furthermore, loading up your smartphone with some essential disaster apps will help you reconnect with loved ones, get disaster updates, teach first-aid tips, and walk you through earthquake aftermath recovery.

Start with a Digital Disaster Kit.

If you’re like most people, your smartphone is your preferred storage device of choice. It’s portable and practically attached to your hip at least most of the day (or all of it, no judgment). If you want to go the extra mile, have two forms of digital storage. For example,

  1. A mobile device, such as smartphone or tablet and
  2. A flash drive or external hard drive

There are a few reasons to have multiple storage locations. First of all, two kinds of storage may make you feel more secure. Secondly, a backup will give you access to these documents if your mobile device is inaccessible. However, if you choose an internet-based storage method, be aware of the inherent risks and practice extreme caution with the security of your account(s).

The American Red Cross recommends using your mobile storage device as a digital disaster kit. You’ll need to put these in storage on your mobile device for a complete digital library:

  • Current or recent photos of family members and pets. This will help if you need to identify or locate a family member after the earthquake.
  • Copies of personal identification records, such as driver’s licenses or passports.
  • Critical personal and financial records. This may include a list of credit cards and lending institutions plus the contact information for them.
  • Medical cards and medical information for each family member. Include any allergy or immunization records.
  • Veterinarian records (if applicable). Include your pet’s vaccination records and the contact information for their veterinarian, reliable shelters, and pet-friendly hotels or accommodations.
  • Copies of vital records, including:
    • Social Security Cards
    • Birth and marriage certificates
    • Wills, living wills, medical directives, trusts, and power of attorney paperwork
    • Property and personal insurance policies, paperwork, and documents.
    • Deeds to property or properties
    • Lists of household contents and personal property

Earthquake Myths Explained: 9 Ways Fiction Got it Wrong

If you were to search the internet for “Earthquake Movies,” you may (or may not) be surprised with how many results you’ll find. San AndreasApocalypse, and 10.5 are three recent films that paint a grim story of the likely earthquake and the speculative aftermath. Is Hollywood onto something, or do these movies push more earthquake myths than fact?

Earthquake Myths Explained
Earthquake science can be both fascinating and easily misunderstood.

Hollywood may get some things right and other things wrong when it comes to earthquake science. How much of the hype should you believe? We know that a massive earthquake is overdue for the West Coast and Pacific Northwest. What happens when an earthquake of cinematic scale strikes? These earthquake myths and facts will set the record straight.

Earthquake Myths and Facts

Earthquake Myth 1Myth 1: “Stand in a doorway when an earthquake strikes.”

Fact: Perhaps this was once an accepted practice, or maybe an old wives’ tale, but now experts firmly discourage standing in a doorway during a quake. Modern building practices make the doorway no safer than any other part of the house. The door, as it swings on its hinges, is likely to strike you and injure you. A doorway also doesn’t protect you from falling objects and debris, and, instead of protecting your head and neck, you’ll be holding onto the doorframe trying to stay in place. Forget this myth, and take cover under a table or a sturdy surface.

Earthquake Myth 2Myth 2: “Earthquakes only happen late at night or early in the morning.”

Fact: Earthquakes can and do happen any time of the day or night. People are more likely to remember the ones that either fit a specific pattern or surprised them the most. However, earthquakes happen throughout the day, and not all are as memorable or noticeable.

Earthquake Myth 3Myth 3: “Earthquake faults can swallow people and buildings.”

Fact: This is one of the big Hollywood earthquake myths. Sometimes, writers have used earthquake faults to do-away with a character, like taking quicksand to a whole new level. The science of earthquake faults is simple: earthquakes are caused by friction. Friction is caused by objects rubbing together. If the ground could move away from a fault (instead of across a fault), the fault would open up. If the fault opens up, there is no friction. No friction means no earthquake.

Earthquake Myth 4Myth 4: “California is going to break off from the United States and sink into the ocean.”

Fact: Californians may laugh about this one, but this earthquake myth is pervasive throughout the United States. Experts on plate tectonics have determined that the motion of the plates located on the West Coast have eliminated this threat. In fact, western California is moving horizontally along the San Andreas fault and up and around the mountains to the northeast of the Los Angeles basin. This means that the land on both sides of the San Andreas fault is moving closer together, not farther apart. Finally, the ocean is not a giant hole for the ground to fall into– instead, there’s just more land with water above it.

Earthquake Myth 5Myth 5: “Buildings are good because we have building codes.”

Fact: Unless we are checking codes regularly, it is not likely that the building is earthquake-ready. This means we have more old buildings that are in need of updates. Retrofitting is the responsibility of the building’s owner. Checking to make sure your building has been retrofitted to code can save lives.

Earthquake Myth 6Myth 6: “Earthquakes can be predicted by the weather.”

Fact: This is another earthquake myth because the source of the shaking starts far below the surface of the land. The surface weather has little to do with the chance of an earthquake. Human bias has continued this myth: the weather on the day of the earthquake coincidently fits a biased pattern, and that pattern is conveniently remembered and applied to future instances.

Earthquake Myth 7Myth 7: “Animals can predict an earthquake.”

Fact: This is half-myth and half-truth. There isn’t any evidence that can prove this theory without a doubt. People have been able to observe some behavior changes in animals before earthquakes, but these changes haven’t been consistent enough to make a definitive connection between animals and earthquakes.

Earthquake Myth 8Myth 8: “Earthquakes are more frequent now.”

Fact: Lack of evidence debunks this earthquake myth. Our ability to measure earthquakes with advances in science and technology has made us more aware of earthquakes previously unnoticed.

Earthquake Myth 9Myth 9: “We can predict earthquakes.”

Fact: This is one of the earthquake myths that we hope is true one day. Scientists attempt to calculate the possibility of earthquakes using patterns and research. However, there is no true scientific way to determine when an earthquake will occur.  Because of this uncertainty, seismologists, government officials, insurance companies, and researchers all encourage individuals to be proactive when it comes to safety and preparedness. We don’t know exactly when the next earthquake will strike, but we do know that it will happen. Your role in preparedness could save lives, prevent your financial ruin, and keep you safe.

Want more earthquake myths and facts?

Check out USGS’s Earthquake Facts and Earthquake Fantasy for more earthquake facts you should know if you live in earthquake country.