In California, the risk of an earthquake is never far from people's minds. In areas along the San Andreas Fault line in California, the earth has a way of nudging Californians awake and constantly reminding them never to be complacent.
We have been lucky, so far.
But Americans have been relatively lucky in the last hundred years, as truly devastating earthquakes on the level that we have seen in recent years in China, Mexico, Japan and Haiti, involving thousands and even hundreds of thousands of deaths -have been rare.
That's due to a combination of strenuously enforced building codes - and pure dumb luck. Yes, we have had several quakes of 9+ magnitude strike sparsely-populated areas of
Alaska over the years. But as of this writing, the United States has not had a major metropolitan area host the epicenter of a 7.8 magnitude-plus earthquake in living memory.
But that could change any minute. The California Earthquake Authority's website has additional information specifically for California residents. At CEA's website, you can also get a quote for earthquake insurance.
What should I do to protect my family and my property?
1. Practice with your family how to react safely during an earthquake. Hold periodic family drills to practice, in the event of an earthquake you can instinctively react safely.
2. Know the the safest places in your home to "drop, cover and hold on" during an earthquake. Like anything
this must be practiced with your family so if the time comes, they can just react and not think.
3. Prepare an emergency supply kit for your family and make sure everyone knows where it is located. The kit should include most importantly a 5 days supply of drinking water. The kit should include basically everything you would need if you were taking your family on a 5 day camping trip.
4. Make sure your home is updated to the most current earthquake building standards. For example, if you home is built on a raised foundation, or prior to 1950, you need to confirm that it is bolted to the foundation.
5. Purchase earthquake insurance coverage for your most important asset, your home.
The Federal Department of Emergency Management has developed a threat matrix to help gauge your exposure to earthquake threats. In addition, FEMA has also published maps to help you determine your proximity to fault lines, which are areas with an elevated likelihood of a seismic event. You can download the maps from FEMA at http://www.fema.gov/earthquake/earthquake-hazard-maps. The closer you are to a red area on the map, the greater your exposure to seismic forces. But the damage you will incur has a lot to do with the strength of your building as well.
Some states, like California, have a state sponsored risk pool to indemnify residents against earthquake risk. In other areas, you'll need to get specialized coverage.
Don't assume a regular homeowners or business policy will necessarily cover you for damage or loss from earthquakes. Generally, you must obtain separate coverage specifically to cover earthquake damage - just as those who live in a flood plain must carry separate flood insurance.