Preparing the Northwest

brought to you by NW Insurance Council


Earthquakes can cause a great deal of damage to your home in only a few minutes and financially devastate a family.

Earthquake damage is excluded under standard homeowners and business owner’s policies. However, special insurance is available.  Homeowners or business owners can purchase Earthquake Insurance from a surplus lines carrier in the form of an endorsement or a separate policy.
Normally, separate deductibles are applied to losses involving your home and other buildings and contents or personal belongings. Deductibles can range from 10 to 25 percent of the amount covered.
This means that a policy covering a house for $100,000 and contents for $70,000 with a 10 percent deductible requires the policyholder to pay for the first $10,000 of damage to the house and the first $2,500 of damage to contents.
Premiums vary by company. Consider shopping around to get the best price, most affordable deductible and the customer service that meets your needs.
Learn how to prepare and survive an earthquake.

What to expect in an earthquake

During an earthquake, the "solid" earth moves like the deck of a ship. The actual movement of the ground, however, is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most casualties result from falling objects and debris because the shocks can shake, damage, or demolish buildings. Earthquakes may also trigger landslides, cause fires, and generate huge ocean waves called "tsunamis".

Earthquake Injuries
Injuries are commonly caused by:

  1. Building collapse or damage, such as toppling chimneys, falling brick from wall facings and roof parapets, collapsing walls, falling ceiling plaster, light fixtures, and pictures.
  2. Flying glass from broken windows. (This danger may be greater from windows in high-rise structures.)
  3. Overturned bookcases, fixtures, and other furniture and appliances.
  4. Fires from broken chimneys, broken gas lines, and similar causes. The danger may be aggravated by a lack of water caused by broken mains.
  5. Fallen power lines.
  6. Drastic human action resulting from fear.

What can you do?
There are many actions that you can take to reduce the dangers from earthquakes to yourself, your family, and others.

Before an earthquake Strikes

Personal Preparedness Actions

  1. Consider retrofitting your home by bolting your house to the foundation and securing heavy furniture and appliances like strapping your hot-water heater to the wall and attaching bookcases to the wall.  For more information on how to effectively prepare your home for an earthquake, visit the Institute for Business & Home Safety’s Homeowners Guide to Earthquake Retrofit.
  2. Check for potential fire risks. Defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections are very dangerous in the event of an earthquake. Bolt down or provide other strong support for water heaters and gas appliances. Use flexible connections wherever possible.
  3. Know where and how to shut off electricity, gas and water at main switches and valves. Check with your local utilities office for instructions.
  4. Be sure you have a flashlight and a battery powered radio on hand in case power is cut off.
  5. Place large and heavy objects on lower shelves. Securely fasten shelves to walls. Brace or anchor high or top heavy objects.
  6. Bottled goods, glass, china and other breakables should likewise not be stored in high places of left where they can freely slide on shelves.
  7. Overhead lighting fixtures such as chandeliers should be made fast. A little wiring or anchoring will usually take care of these risks.
  8. Deep plaster cracks should be investigated. Such cracks, especially on ceilings, could result in large pieces of heavy plaster falling and causing injury.

During an earthquake

If you are outdoors, stay outdoors; if indoors, stay indoors. In earthquakes, most injuries occur as people are entering or leaving buildings. If indoors, take cover under a heavy desk, table, bench, or in doorways, halls, or against inside walls. Stay away from glass. Don't use candles, matches, or other open flames either during or after the tremor because of possible gas leaks. Douse all fires.

If in a high-rise building, get under a desk or similar heavy furniture. Do not dash for exits, since stairways may be broken and jammed with people. Never use elevators since power may fail.

If in a crowded store, do not rush for a doorway since hundreds may have the same idea. If you must leave the building, choose your exit as carefully as possible. If outdoors,move away from buildings and utility wires. The greatest danger from falling debris is just outside doorways and close to outer walls. Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops.

If in a moving car, stop as quickly as safety permits, but stay in the vehicle. A car may jiggle violently on its springs during an earthquake, but it is a good place to stay until the shaking stops. When you drive on, watch for hazards created by the earthquake, such as fallen or falling objects, downed electric wires, or broken undermined roadways.

After an earthquake

  1. Be prepared for additional earthquake shocks called "aftershocks". Although most of these are smaller that the main shock, some may be large enough to cause additional damage.
  2. Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.
  3. Turn on your radio or television to get the latest emergency bulletins and instructions from local authorities.
  4. Check utilities. Earth movement may have broken gas, electrical and water lines. If you smell gas, open windows and shut off the main gas valve. Then leave the building and report gas leakage to authorities. Do not re-enter the building until a utility official says it is safe. If electrical wiring is shorting out, shut off current at the main meter box.  If water pipes are damaged, shut off the supply at the main valve.  You can get emergency water from such sources as hot water tanks, toilet tanks, and melted ice cubes.
  5. Check to see that sewage lines are intact before permitting continued flushing of toilets.
  6. Carefully check chimneys for cracks and damage.  Unnoticed damage could lead to fire.
  7. Do not touch downed power lines or objects touched by downed lines.
  8. Do not eat or drink anything from open containers near shattered glass.
  9. If power is off, check your freezer and plan meals to use foods that spoil quickly.
  10. Stay out of severely damaged buildings. Aftershocks can shake them down.

An earthquake's worst killer may come from the sea

Tsunamis are the so-called "tidal waves" generated by some earthquakes. A tsunami, however, is not a single wave, but a series of waves. When you hear a tsunami warning, you must assume a dangerous wave is on its way. If you live along the coast, an earthquake in your area is a natural tsunami warning. Do not stay in low-lying coastal areas after a local earthquake. Do not return to such areas until local authorities tell you that the danger of a tsunami has passed.

Approaching tsunamis are sometimes heralded by a noticeable rise or fall of coastal water. Never go down to the beach to watch a tsunami. When you can see the wave, you are too close to escape it.

Northwest earthquake potential

Northwest has had a history of earthquakes, and earthquakes will continue to be a part of the lives of Northwest's citizens.

The 6.8 magnitude Nisqually Earthquake that jolted the Northwest in 2001 caused an estimated $2 billion in damage to homes, businesses and government buildings.  The quake, which struck near Olympia, Wash., led to 9,500 insurance claims and approximately $315 million in insured losses.

Large earthquakes in 1938, 1949, and 1965 caused millions of dollars in damages and 15 deaths in the area between Olympia and Seattle.  Damaging earthquakes have occasionally occurred in other parts of Northwest at widely separated sites between the Canadian border and Oregon.

Northwest earthquakes occur most frequently in the Puget Sound Region. Earthquakes also occur in the Mount St. Helens area and southeast of Mt. Rainier.  A major earthquake could, however, occur anywhere in the Northwest

Faults are fractures in the earth's surface, accompanied by movement of one side of the fracture in relation to the other. Fault maps of movement, but most of these mapped faults appear to be presently inactive.  Northwest earthquakes are rarely associated with these mapped faults.

The Northwest has a history of earthquakes and the potential for one happening anywhere, anytime.

For state-specific earthquake information, visit these sites:


Earthquake & Insurance Facts

  1. The 6.8 magnitude Nisqually Earthquake that jolted the Northwest in 2001 caused an estimated $2 billion in damage to homes, businesses and government buildings.  The quake led to 9,500 insurance claims and approximately $315 million in insured losses.
  2. Standard Homeowners Insurance does not cover earthquake damage. Earthquake Insurance Facts
  3. You can obtain Earthquake Insurance by purchasing a separate insurance policy or an endorsement to your existing Homeowners Insurance Policy.
  4. Some companies that don’t specifically offer EQ Insurance do allow their agents to find coverage for their customers through surplus lines carriers such as Geo Vera, ACE European Group Limited and Lloyds of London.
  5. Earthquake Insurance can double your premium for wood frame homes and may cost between 4 and 10 times your annual premium for masonry structures.
  6. Doubling the cost of most homeowners polices still keeps the total cost below $100 a month – less than your auto insurance policy for protecting a far more valuable asset. 
  7. A brick home could cost approximately $3 to $15 per $1,000 worth of coverage in the Northwest, while it would only cost between 60 to 90 cents per $1,000 in NY. 
  8. The decision to purchase Earthquake Insurance is a personal choice. Most people can afford to purchase earthquake insurance, if it’s a high enough priority. The cost for Earthquake Insurance is equal to eliminating a latte a day and cable television.
  9. Earthquake insurance is there for severe damage or total destruction of your home. High deductibles allow for coverage to be more affordable to homeowners.
  10. Create a Family Evacuation Plan. Designate a place where all family members can meet immediately after a disaster. Arrange to have a friend or family member located away from the immediate area to be a central contact point. Communications could be difficult or even inoperable in the affected area, making it hard for you to call family members directly.
  11. Build an Emergency Survival Kit that includes enough food and water to last 72 hours. The kit should also include a radio, batteries, water-proof matches, flashlights, blankets, basic tools, a First Aid kit and copies of your insurance policies.
  12. Develop a Home Inventory of your personal belongings. Make a list of your of your possessions, even your clothes. Write down serial numbers, keep receipts, take pictures or video of what you own. Keep your Home Inventory off site.   For a free, downloadable Home Inventory Software, visit
  13. Take the time to secure heavy furniture and appliances to prevent them from falling and causing more damage. Here are some examples:
  14. Secure your water heater, washer and dryer to the floor or wall studs and replace copper gas and water pipes with flexible lines.
  15. Anchor external fuel tanks and wood-burning stoves.
  16. Properly secure pictures, mirrors, shelves and light fixtures by drilling eyebolts into walls.