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Earthquake Insurance

Canadians Are Not Prepared For A Major Earthquake, Says IBC

Written by Jim Adair on Monday, 12 January 2015 1:02 pm

Let's face it, planning for an earthquake isn't high on most Canadians' list of priorities -- but for some people, maybe it should be.

A recent scientific study commissioned by the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) says Canadians are not prepared to handle a major earthquake. It says that within the next 50 years, there is a 30-per-cent chance of a significant earthquake in British Columbia and a five- to 15-per-cent chance of a big quake in the Quebec City/Montreal/Ottawa region.

Forty per cent of Canada's population lives in those two seismic zones.

"A major earthquake would affect all Canadians and have a domino effect on the national economy triggered by property damage, supply chain interruption, loss of services, infrastructure failure and business interruption," says the IBC. It says consumers, insurers and governments all should develop "a pre-planned, disciplined and integrated approach to the management of earthquake risk."

In the past 100 years, there have been at least nine earthquakes in Canada that registered a magnitude higher than 7.0, says a Government of Canada site. "A strong quake near one of Canada's major urban areas would likely be the most destructive natural disaster this country could experience," it says.

The IBC commissioned the study to quantify the impacts of a 1-in-500-year earthquake in each of the regions. (The Japan earthquake of 2011 was a one-in-600-year event.) In the first scenario, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake 75 km off the west coast of Vancouver was modelled. It concluded there would be overall economic losses of almost $75 billion, with insured losses of almost $20 billion.

The second scenario was a 7.1-magnitude earthquake near Quebec City. It was a smaller magnitude but the epicentre was closer to the surface. It found there would be losses of almost $61 billion, with insured losses of $12 billion.

"Insured losses are relatively small because there is a low take-up rate for residential insurance" in the two at-risk regions, says IBC. In B.C., more than 55 per cent of residents have no earthquake insurance, while in Quebec, about 96 per cent of residents don't have earthquake coverage.

In B.C., public awareness about earthquake preparedness is growing. Last fall, more than 730,000 people took part in ShakeOut B.C. Day, an international initiative that includes earthquake drills in schools, offices, businesses and outdoors. The event will now be held every third Thursday in October.

It encourages people to practice the "Drop, Cover and Hold On" protocol in case an earthquake hits. Drop to the ground (before you are knocked there), take cover by getting under a sturdy desk or table and hold on until the shaking stops. If there's no desk or table, try to get to the inside corner of a building and put your arms over your head.

Do not get in a doorway -- despite popular belief, it will not protect you. Do not run outside.

To be prepared for an earthquake, there are several steps you can take in your home that may also come in handy for less dramatic events.

For example, everyone in the family should know where the gas, water and hydro shutoffs are in the home. But don't shut off the gas unless there is a leak or fire, because you'll need a qualified technician to come and turn it back on.

If you have children you probably did this already, but ensure that top-heavy furniture and television sets are secure and won't fall.

Fasten bookcases to walls with bolts or screws. Hang light fixtures and fans from electrical boxes that are fastened to ceiling joists.

Don't hang heavy artwork or mirrors over the bed. Use closed hooks or safety hangers for items that are hanging on the wall. Safety latches on cupboards will prevent the contents from spilling out.

If you live in a multi-storey building, work with the building manager or condo board to "quake-proof" the building.

The IBC says you should have a first-aid kit, temporary shelter, water, food, a flashlight, a radio, batteries, a fire extinguisher, a wrench and heavy-duty shoes in a safe, easily accessible place. Keep a pair of shoes and a flashlight near the bed.

It suggests storing four litres of water per family member for five days, and making sure your vehicle's gas tank is at least one-quarter full at all times.

Natural Resources Canada offers suggestions for ways you can make your home less susceptible to earthquake damage. It says that houses that absorb and evenly distribute horizontal shifting fare best in an earthquake. Among the suggestions:

- Replace unreinforced masonry or deteriorating concrete foundations with reinforced concrete. Add concrete foundations under walls that have no support.

- Check exterior masonry, especially brick or block veneer. Repair cracks.

- Add steel collar braces to chimneys.

- Reinforce ceilings below chimneys with additional plywood sheathing to prevent bricks and mortar from falling through the ceiling.

- Add shatter-resistant film to windows

- Reinforce large canopies or porches.

Additional note from The Advisors @ Guthrie Insurance. Unlike overland flooding, Earthquake is a catastrophe that homeowners and tenants can insure (although very few do). In Southern Ontario where the risk may be low, the annual premium to insure a typical home is in the range of $400. Although the risk of an occurrence may be low, the financial consequence to a homeowner who may suffer a cracked or shifted foundation or in a worse case scenario, a total collapse would be devastating. Is protecting a $700,000 investment worth a premium of $400? Let your budget and tolerance for risk govern your decision whether to insure for this, or not.

Talk to the RIBO licensed and bonded professionals at Insureplus by Guthrie Insurance today!