By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA
Earthquakes can happen in all 50 states and can cause severe damage that isn’t covered under your homeowners, renters, or condominium insurance policy. Yet, many people in New England neglect to purchase earthquake coverage for their homes because they think they are safe.
At a recent Seismological Society of America meeting, new research was presented by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the California Geological Survey stating that more than 143 million Americans live in earthquake-prone areas.
Although New England doesn’t experience the high frequency of earthquakes such as out in California, they are known to occur. According to the Northeast States Emergency Consortium (NESEC), “the Northeast has experienced damaging earthquakes in the past and they will occur again in the future.”
History of New England Quakes
From 1638 to 2007, the Northeast has experienced a total of 2,403 earthquakes, according to the NESEC.
In November of 1755, one of the most significant earthquakes to impact the Northeast region occurred off the coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. The earthquake had an estimated magnitude of 6.2 and caused considerable damage in Boston and all along the New England coast. The quake damaged as many as 1,600 chimneys and collapsed the brick walls of several buildings.
There have been more damaging earthquakes in the region since 1755. In December of 1940, a quake with a magnitude of 5.5 occurred near Lake Ossipee, New Hampshire. Damages were reported across New England, including chimneys thrown down, cracked plaster, broken dishes, and overturned objects.
On October 16, 2012 Hollis Center, Maine experienced a 4.0 magnitude earthquake centered in southern Maine. Residents near the epicenter of the quake reported that whole houses shook when it hit. The impact was felt across most of New England, even into New York, New Jersey, and Canada.
More recently, and a little bit closer to home, the Weston Observatory at Boston College recorded 11 seismic events spanning over the course of a week in Danielson, Connecticut. On January 12, 2015, the second and most powerful in the series, a quake with a magnitude of 3.3, was centered five kilometers east of Plainfield. There were no injuries, but those who experienced it reported a loud explosion and ground-shaking.
Earthquake Insurance Basics
Since every state has some level of risk for earthquake damage, it is important that you add an endorsement or purchase a separate policy that specifically covers damages to your home resulting from an earthquake. In Massachusetts, coverage is likely to be less expensive than in California where quakes are more frequent.
Earthquake insurance will cover damages to your personal property and dwelling, and may cover other structures that aren’t attached to your home, like a garage. Additionally, it will cover the costs to remove debris and extra living expenses while your home is being rebuilt or repaired. Although coverage varies by insurance company, there are some common exclusions for earthquake insurance, including any pre-existing damage.
Fire. Earthquake insurance will not provide coverage for fire damage to your home resulting from an earthquake, such as a ruptured gas line. Instead, your homeowner’s policy would cover losses from a fire.
Land. Earthquake protection will not cover the costs of damages to your land, such as sinkholes from erosion or other hidden openings under your land. Also, coverage will not pay to fill in large cracks or holes that appear in your yard after a quake.
Vehicles. As earthquake coverage does not protect against damages to your car resulting from a quake, your auto insurance policy may cover the cost of damages.
External water damage. Water damage from an external source, such as from sewer, drain backup, or flood, will not be covered by earthquake insurance. You will need a flood insurance policy to cover your property for that damage.
Masonry veneer. Most policies do not cover damages to masonry veneer—the brick, rock or stone that covers your home’s outside instead of stucco or siding. If you have masonry veneer on your home, the cost to repair damages may be based upon siding materials that cost less.
Protect Yourself and Your Home
Earthquakes can occur at any time without warning. However, there are preparations you can take to lower the risk of earthquake damages to your home, some of which may even lower your quake insurance premium. Consult with a qualified contractor or engineer beforehand to determine if retrofitting is practical for your home.
Some inexpensive ways to reduce earthquake damage to your home are:
- Bolt down heavy furnishings, appliances, and bookcases.
- Secure and brace the water heater to the dwelling frame.
- Install automatic gas shut-off valves.
Additionally, you should create an inventory of all household items for your independent agent. Go through each room individually and document everything including antiques, electronics, jewelry, collectibles, and guns. In the event of damage or a loss, a content inventory will help your agent process your claim quickly. To download our free Home Inventory Guide, please click here.
New England is just as much at risk for devastating earthquakes as the West Coast. It is only a matter of time before another quake similar to the destruction of Cape Ann occurs again. Talk with your independent agent about whether earthquake insurance is right for you and your home.
Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is President and CEO of McGrath Insurance Group of Sturbridge, Mass. He can be reached at 508-347-6850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.