Is the big one still looming?

When people think of disastrous earthquakes hitting the United States, they often think of California, and for good reason.

California has long been at the top of the list for states expecting a major earthquake. The state is located on the Pacific and North American Tectonic plates. Both are very powerful and contain numerous earthquake faults. And to top things off, geologists are discovering new faults all the time.

The last big quake was the 1994 Northridge earthquake that hit 6.7 on the Richter Scale. But the United States Geological Survey (USGS) believes another one is due—especially if you live in certain parts of the state.

For instance, if you live along the San Andreas Fault, you’ll be at the most risk. The notorious fault encompasses 800 miles along the western part of California. And because such a high percentage of Californians live along it, it could cause extreme damage.

So how should these residents prepare?

Whether you’re concerned with personal safety or how to protect your home, we’ve got answers on how to mitigate the potential destruction of an earthquake.

Prepare Yourself

The number one step in preparing for an earthquake should be to find a safe place to go. This means if you’re in your home, find a sturdy doorway or table to get under. And experts advise to come up with an earthquake contingency plan with your family, before a possible earthquake.

For more information on how to prepare for your safety, check out the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) information on earthquake preparedness.

Prepare Your Home


If you haven’t heard of earthquake retrofitting, it’s the process of making a home more earthquake resistant. This means securing the home to its concrete foundation. This can be done through foundation bolting, cripple wall bracing, and “hold down” brackets.

The older the home, the less likely it will be able to withstand a powerful earthquake. This is because homes built prior to 1980 weren’t required to be sealed to the foundation.

If you’re unsure about how earthquake-safe your home is, you can contact your city or county’s emergency management department. You may also want to contact your city or county department of construction and inspections.

Earthquake Insurance

Earthquake damage isn’t a covered peril on a standard homeowners insurance policy. And not a lot of California residents have earthquake insurance. In fact, less than 20 percent are policy holders.

This type of coverage is usually available as an endorsement to a homeowners insurance policy. It also may be available as a standalone policy, depending on where you live and your insurance company.

It protects your home against any damage directly caused by an earthquake. However, it won’t cover flooding, avalanches, landslides, tsunamis, and other disasters resulting from the earthquake. This is because these aren’t covered perils, and you must buy separate riders or endorsements for these occurrences.

But, despite the potential for this coverage to mend earthquake fissures, it is fairly expensive.

How it works is, if your home undergoes earthquake damage, you’ll pay a deductible out of pocket before the coverage kicks in. And the deductible isn’t cheap. It will typically be anywhere from 10%-20% of the coverage limit of the home.

So if your coverage limit is 300,000 dollars and you have a 10% deductible, you’d pay a 30,000 dollar deducible. And if the damage was worth $50,000 you would pay $30,000 and your insurer would pay $20,000. But don’t forget the insurance premiums.

Just like with homeowners insurance premiums, adjusters determine earthquake premiums by risk, and factors like whether your home’s been retrofitted. For example, if you live along the San Andreas Fault, you’ll probably have higher premiums than someone living in the Central Valley of California.

So should you purchase earthquake insurance?

Well, this is contingent on how much damage a potential earthquake could cause to your home. The coverage is expensive, but paying out-of-pocket could be even more so.

If you believe you’re at an especially high risk for an earthquake destroying your home, then it’s probably in your best interest to purchase a policy. However, if you live in a region of California not known to be on a major fault line, you may want to hold off on purchasing a policy.

You can check out the USGS website for further information about the most earthquake prone areas in the country.