Recent California Earthquakes Show U.S. Unprepared for “The Big One”

Earthquake Prep
Steven Steckler

Steven Steckler, president of Sentry Claims Group, underscores the importance of disaster recovery plans in light of the recent California earthquakes.

The recent earthquakes in California reveal a nationwide need for better disaster alert systems. Steven Steckler, president of Sentry Claims Group, notes the importance of preparation and recovery plans in the face of natural catastrophes.

(LAFAYETTE, La.) July 15, 2019— —Last week’s earthquakes in California illustrate how unprepared the U.S. is for the next “Big One,” particularly in comparison to Japan.

While two earthquakes last week in the remote Mojave Desert didn’t cause deaths or serious injuries, they were the largest recorded in two decades—not to mention eerily timed. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the 1994 Northridge, Calif. earthquake that killed at least 57 people and caused $15 billion in damage.

At least one expert says that if a 7.1 magnitude earthquake like one that struck last week were to happen in Los Angeles, damage could exceed $200 billion[1].

Insurance companies must be at the forefront of helping communities recover from these unpredictable seismic activities, said Sentry Claims Group President Steven Steckler.

To do that, property and casualty insurers must be prepared to mitigate risk when earthquakes happen, while also ensuring they have the resources to process and adjust an inundation of claims, Steckler said.

“This country needs to be better prepared for earthquakes, and insurers need to be ready to help Americans rebuild,” said Steckler.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said[2] that last week’s earthquakes should be a “wake up call” to strengthen alert systems and building codes in California and other at-risk states.

California is spending more than $16 million to install thousands of quake-detecting sensors[3] statewide that will give utilities and trains seconds to shut down before the shaking starts. As of this year, people in Los Angeles will now get public alerts[4] through a mobile app for magnitude 5.0 or greater earthquakes.

The ShakeAlert[5] prototype early warning system, spearheaded by the United States Geological Survey, is based on a similar system that has been operational in Japan since 2007. Built on top of three regional seismic networks in Southern California, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, the prototype U.S. system aims to alert people on the West Coast of major onshore earthquakes seconds before the shaking starts. However, the system experienced snafus[6] in California last week.

Another issue is that both onshore and offshore warning systems are needed.  Massive quakes causing tsunamis happen offshore.[7]

The Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2019, new legislation[8] introduced by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in February, was created to establish an early warning system for offshore earthquakes in the region impacted by the 700-mile-long Cascadia subduction zone that’s just off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington. The legislation is awaiting a companion bill in the Senate.

Japan is considered the benchmark for how a country prepares for earthquakes and tsunamis. DeFazio said that that the U.S. is “so underprepared compared to the Japanese.”

Japan already had a sophisticated onshore early warning system in place and was developing an offshore component when the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami[9] struck. After that, Japan allocated almost $1 billion to new offshore instrumentation.

Japan has used an engineering technique called base isolation in about 9,000 buildings to date, making them more able to withstand earthquakes.

But in the U.S., a 2018 federal study found that a quarter of the buildings in the San Francisco Bay Area would be significantly damaged after a magnitude-7 earthquake. Not only that, recovery would be hindered even further because nine out of every 10 commercial buildings and eight out of 10 homes in California are not insured[10] for earthquakes.

“We need to be adequately prepared for any kind of extreme weather event or disaster,” Steckler said. “The aftermath is always the same. The damage is done, and the rebuilding process must begin.”

About Sentry Claims Group, LLC

Sentry Claims Group, located Lafayette, La., is the leader in providing independent property and casualty claims adjusting services for both catastrophic events and daily claims. Founded in 2014 and led by insurance industry veterans including President Steven Steckler, SCG is built on the core values of best-in-class service, immediate action and unwavering reassurance, and is committed to helping communities and businesses rebuild their lives in the wake of natural disasters. For more information about Sentry Claims Group, visit www.scgadjusters.com.

[1] Evans, Carter. “Recent California Earthquakes a Stark Warning for Los Angeles.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 8 July 2019.
[2] Rogers, John, and Robert Jablon. “Quakes Push Californians to Prepare for the next Big Jolt.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 8 July 2019
[3] John Rogers, Robert Jablon And Marcio Jose Sanchez. “California’s Recent Earthquakes Reignite Fears of ‘Big One’.” Time, Time, 8 July 2019
[4] Hurley, Amanda Kolson. “Los Angeles Gets America’s First Earthquake Warning App.” Wired, Conde Nast, 9 Jan. 2019
[5] “ShakeAlert.” Current Status, www.usgs.gov/natural-hazards/shakealert/current-status.
[6] Betuel, Emma. “An Earthquake Early Warning System Is Preparing California for the ‘Big One’.” Inverse, 8 July 2019
[7] “U.S. West Coast and Alaska Marine Geohazards.” U.S. West Coast and Alaska Marine Geohazards, www.usgs.gov/centers/pcmsc/science/us-west-coast-and-alaska-marine-geohazards?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects.
[8] DeFazio, and Peter A. “Text – H.R.876 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2019.” Congress.gov, 7 Feb. 2019, www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/876/text?r=70&s=1.
[9] Raby, A., Macabuag, J., Pomonis, A., Wilkinson, S., Rossetto, T., Implications of the 2011 GEJE on Sea Def. Design. Int. J. Disaster Risk Reduction. Vol. 14, 332-346, 2015.
[10] Fuller, Thomas. “In Quake-Prone California, Alarm at Scant Insurance Coverage.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Aug. 2018

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