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Kenton Brine, President
Sandi Henke, Communications Director     
NW Insurance Council    
Phone: (503) 465-6800/(800) 664-4942
Fax: (206) 624-1975

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May is Volcano Awareness Month: does your insurance policy protect you?

SEATTLE, Monday, May 23, 2017 – On May 18, the Northwest observed the 37th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, which killed 57 people devastated millions of acres and disrupted lives, businesses and communities across the region. So, you might have wondered as you learned more about the disaster – is a volcanic eruption a covered insurance risk? The answer is yes – and no, and…it depends on your policy.

Insurance was part of the recovery when Mount St. Helens erupted 37 years ago. The disaster resulted in 40,000 insurance claims and $27 million in insured losses – that’s $79.8 million in today's dollars.

The Pacific Northwest is home to both active and dormant volcanoes, but of course, there is no way to know if or when volcanic activity could be serious enough to cause property damage.  For families and businesses across the region – especially in communities in the path of a volcanic eruptions, it is important to have a disaster preparedness plan in place and know what standard home, auto and business insurance policies cover (and what they don’t, as well as what you might consider if you want additional coverage).

Should a large eruption occur, such as one at Washington’s Mt. Rainier, ash could ascend as high as 20,000 feet and drift as far as California. Searing hot magna likely would melt ice and snow, possibly triggering floods and mudflows.

“Mount St. Helens is not just a monument to the power of nature – it is also an active and potentially dangerous volcanic threat,” said Kenton Brine, NW Insurance Council president, “In other parts of the country, people routinely prepare for disasters like hurricanes and tornados by making a family response plan and making sure they have appropriate insurance coverage. Northwest families and businesses would be wise to do the same for the threat of volcanoes here.” 

The NW Insurance Council and Insurance Information Institute offer the following information to help you know what to do and prepare for a volcanic eruption:

What’s Covered

  • Most Home, Renters and Business Insurance policies provide coverage for property loss caused by volcanic eruption when it is the result of a volcanic blast, airborne shockwaves, ash, dust, or lava flow. Fire, explosion, or theft resulting from volcanic eruption also is covered.
  • Damage to your vehicle is covered under most Auto policies if you have Comprehensive Coverage at the time of the loss. Direct, sudden damage to engines from volcanic ash or dust is covered under most policies. Most policies do not cover damage that occurs over time and is caused by volcanic dust or ash. Wear and tear from any circumstance general is not covered.
  • A vehicle accident that happens during or after a volcanic eruption would be covered like any other accident, provided you have Collision and Liability protection at the time of the accident.

What Isn’t Covered

  • Most Homeowners insurance policies do not cover damage from earthquake, land tremors, landslide, mudflow or other earth movement regardless of whether or not the quake is caused by or causes a volcanic eruption.
  • Earthquake coverage is usually available either by endorsement for an additional charge or by purchasing a separate earthquake policy. Most insurance companies will not issue earthquake policies during or immediately after an earthquake.
  • Similarly, property owners can seek coverage for landslides and mud flow under a “difference in conditions” policy, typically available through specialty or “surplus lines” insurers and brokers. Ask your insurance agent or company for details.
  • Flood damage is not covered under a typical homeowners insurance policy. Flood coverage is available through the National Flood Insurance Program and some private insurance companies.
  • Damage to land, trees, shrubs, lawns, property in the open, open sheds or the contents of those open sheds typically are not covered, though it is a good idea to report the contents of such outbuildings to your insurer to see if those items could be included in a standard homeowners policy.

What To Do

  • Avoid prolonged driving in airborne or accumulated volcanic ash. Volcanic ash or dust can cause severe damage to your engine.
  • If your vehicle is exposed to heavy volcanic ash, change your air filter and have your vehicle checked by a qualified auto mechanic as soon as possible.
  • Do not wipe or brush the ash or dust that accumulates on your vehicle or windows. Volcanic ash is very abrasive and can easily scratch your vehicle. Carefully wash the ash from your vehicle with a stream of water from a garden hose.
  • Remove ash from your vehicle as soon as it is safe to do so. Prolonged exposure to volcanic ash and dust can chemically damage the paint and glass.
  • Remove ash and dust from the roof of your home as soon as it is safe to do so. Ash is heavy and can cause damage to your roof or gutters if allowed to accumulate.

The Northwest has a wide variety of natural disaster risks – volcanoes, earthquake, flooding, tsunami, wildfire, landslide, severe windstorms and freezing weather.  Fortunately, you don’t need separate preparedness plans for each type of potential natural disaster.  You can put together a comprehensive plan that considers all of your risks. 

The NW Insurance Council offers the following tips to help you develop an effective plan for surviving the next disaster:

  • Develop an effective disaster preparedness plan.  Visit
  • Develop an emergency kit that includes at least a four-day supply of drinking water and food you don’t have to refrigerate or cook.  The kit should also contain first aid supplies, a weather radio, batteries, clothing, blankets, medicine, copies of your insurance policies and some basic tools.  More disaster planning resources are available at
  • Develop a Home Inventory of your personal property.  A complete inventory of your possessions will help you and your adjuster get through the claims process more quickly, including insurance settlements and/or tax deductions for losses.  You can access free, downloadable Home Inventory software from the Insurance Information Institute.
  • Become familiar with your community’s disaster preparedness plans.
  • Plan an escape route in the event you have to evacuate your home.  Check with city or county officials for low points in the event of a flood or tsunami. 
  • Determine the location of the nearest official shelter.  The Red Cross can locate shelters near your home and explain what you should take with you.
  • Agree on a meeting place for your family in case local communications networks are offline.  Also determine a virtual meeting place such as a voicemail box or online social networking site.  Designate out-of-state contacts in case you can’t communicate locally.
For more information on preparing for a disaster, visit or contact NW Insurance Council at 800-664-4942.

NW Insurance Council is a nonprofit, public-education and public policy organization funded by member insurance companies serving Washington, Oregon and Idaho.