It’s a question of magnitude

Earthquakes can happen anytime, anywhere, and currently no matter how magnificent our technology, they are still beyond our control.  Why?  Let’s learn a bit about geophysics.

The entire surface of our planet is covered with giant puzzle-piece shaped plates, most of which are bigger than any continent.  They are all afloat on a thick, viscous sea of molten rock that lies approximately 100 km (60 miles) beneath them.  The North American Plate and the European Plate are currently moving away from each other at the prodigious rate of one sport field (soccer pitch/football field) every 4,000 years.  Maybe that explains why airfares keep going up…  That extra 2.5 cm (1”) every year adds up over time…

Nevertheless, these plates are all jostling about.  Some are moving away from each other, allowing the land between them to sink and form valleys, or even opening space between them, so that lava can come up and form new land.

In some cases one plate rides up on top of another plate, forcing the other one down into the molten rock below where it melts.  This is called subduction, and an interesting theory holds that some of our petrochemical reserves are created at this juncture.  This is a place of very intense heat, pressure, and chemical reactions.  If so, speculation holds that we may have a great deal of non-fossil fuel left to exploit.

Still others are moving towards each other, crushing together and raising new mountains.  In other cases they run parallel to each other, but in opposite directions.  All these motions release a lot of energy, but only a little bit at a time.  The problem arises when two of the plates lock together and a lot of kinetic potential energy is built up.

Eventually friction is overcome and the land gives way suddenly, often catastrophically.   While a few inches per year may not seem like much, when things are NOT moving for years or decades, the plates end up accumulating a massive amount of energy.  Suppose that the piece of ground beneath you suddenly decided to move left, by less than the length of a car.

Even if there were no cracks in the ground (that might be miles away), you would be knocked off your feet.  Anything fixed to the ground would have to bear the stress of the sudden shift.  Everything in your immediate environment would appear to move to the right by the same distance.  People, cars, houses would literally have the ground pulled out from under them.

For all those people who think that they’re immune from earthquakes because they don’t live in an earthquake zone, nature as little surprise for you.  The somewhat rare Intraplate Earthquake can occur anywhere, no matter how remote from the edge of a tectonic plate.  These catch people by surprise because they are completely unpredictable.

We’ve all seen those painful-to-watch videos of kids on skateboards sliding down the handrails of staircases (“grinding”).  Sometimes the board breaks, and they end up landing astride the handrail, resulting in a very painful injury, particularly for boys.  Despite the fact that you’re wincing right now as you contemplate it, it makes a very good analogy to explain intraplate earthquakes.

Even a tectonic plate has a breaking-point, and uneven pressure from different directions can cause splintering and fractures in the middle of them.  It can take the form of a V-shaped trench, or one portion rising above another portion (or one side dropping away from the other).

Tectonic plates don’t shatter nearly as dramatically as that skateboard, but even little cracks, on our relatively tiny human scale, create large seismic waves.  And they are sufficient to damage levees, compromise dikes, down power lines, and destroy homes.  And quite often they propagate over a fairly large area, compared to the reasonably localised events that we hear about in the news.

Large earthquakes are reasonably rare.  Seismologists record dozens of little quakes and tremblors of level 2 or 3 on the Richter scale that most people cannot even feel.  They are so common that they are not even considered worthy of a line or two in the local newspaper, or a jocular remark by a radio personality.

The Richter scale measures how much energy is released during an earthquake, and is useful for comparing one earthquake to another.  There are other methodologies for making that measurement, incorporating amplitude of the shockwave, distance from the measuring device, and the duration, but they were all designed to be consistent with the Richter scale, which was the first, invented in 1934.

The Richter scale experiences some limitations since it was designed for use in California.  Larger earthquakes, especially in different geologic conditions, offered challenges to the form of measurement so the Moment Magnitude (MW) scale was created.  It works over a much larger range of measurement.

A 4.3 event can actually be felt.  People tend to expect to hear something about it and receive assurances that everything is all right.  Those people, who experience earthquakes fairly frequently, take a quick look at their earthquake supplies.  They make sure everything is as it should be, and carry on with their lives.

In those locations well removed from known or familiar earthquake zones, people just go on smugly believing that they are perfectly safe.  These are the people we need to reach; to convince that there is a possibility; to emphasize that even the most basic preparation is better than nothing.

Compared to earthquakes, global warming is inconsequential.  Climate change might, decades or centuries from now, change the way we live on Earth.  A single Earthquake could destroy your property, shatter your hopes and dreams, or kill you, or your family members, in a matter of seconds.  Isn’t that worth at least one day out of your weekend to assemble an earthquake kit?

Earthquake Insurance

House and Car Destroyed by TsunamiIf you live in an area that is prone to earthquakes than earthquake insurance is not such a bad idea. Like any insurance it only becomes important when you do not have it. Earthquake insurance can help you recoup any losses that you experience during an earthquake.

Most homeowners insurance does not cover property damage from an earthquake. You have to have a special policy or rider that will add the coverage to your policy. There are only a handful of insurance carriers that offer earthquake insurance.

If you live in an area where earthquakes happen frequently than having this type of insurance is a very good investment. Choosing a plan that meets all your needs will require that you do your homework and take the time to shop around and compare plans.


The plan deductibles vary from plan to plan so it is important to shop around and do some comparisons. Typically with this type of insurance the deductibles can be rather high so they are not necessarily a good idea unless there is a total loss of property.

Shopping around and comparing your options can help you find a plan that is affordable and that has reasonable deductibles.


If you are interested in acquiring earthquake insurance the time to do it is BEFORE there is an earthquake. Often insurance carriers will stop offering this type insurance following an earthquake for a  while. This is done because many times following an earthquake there are substantial aftershocks that occur.

You want to purchase a plan from a reliable carrier that has a strong reputation for providing good options and following through with claims quickly and accurately. A trustworthy carrier can provide you with a plan that is affordable and that offers a lower deductible.

 Is It Worth It?

Earthquake insurance is an added expense above and beyond your regular homeowners insurance and you may be wondering if it is worth the added expense. Like every other kind of insurance if you don’t need it you don’t miss it but if you live in an area where an earthquake is a potential threat than yes it is worth it!

It is far better to be over insured than it is to be under insured in every case. Shop and compare to find a plan that is affordable and that will work for your situation. Protect your investment with earthquake insurance.

More information:

Husforsikring – Danish site about the insurance of houses in Denmark

Earthquake insurance in Japan

Government of New Zealand provides earthquake insurance

Emergency Food Supplies


As part if your preparations for an earthquake you should prepare an emergency food supply that will last each individual several days or as much as a week. Use foods that your family likes. Canned foods, dry mixes, dehydrated fruit, etc. that are normally used will do just fine. Try for a balance meal approach. Don’t forget a manual can opener in the event of a power outage. Foods stored in dark, cool areas lasts longer. Rotate food items from storage at least once or twice a year to avoid spoilage and keep freshness. It may be helpful to write the date on the items the day they were stored.


Packing food for Burning ManPerishable foods such as milk, meats, etc. that are normally stored under refrigeration will spoil quickly without it. If still cold, these foods should be used first. Foods in freezers can last several days without power if the door is not opened frequently.


If perishable foods lose refrigeration and become warm, DO NOT USE. Bacteria grows rapidly without refrigeration, and may cause food poisoning.

If canned foods have been damaged and are bulging or leaking, DO NOT USE.

DO NOT USE food from open containers where broken glass is present, have or where household chemicals have spilled.

Unsealed containers and those that have been punctured by rodents or have rodent droppings should NOT be used.

There are several reputable suppliers of prepared emergency food supplies for individuals, families and business. Check your Yellow Pages for a distributor nearest you.


Modified from: San Mateo County Department of Health Services

The Earthquake in Haiti in 2010

The Earthquake in Haiti in 2010

On Tuesday, January 12, 2010 a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti with catastrophic consequences. The epicenter of the earthquake hit near the town of Léogâne, roughly 16 miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake hit at approximately 4:55pm local time and affected major cities surrounding the region.

Aftershocks and Damagehaiti earthquake 2010

By the time the sun rose on January 24th, there had been at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or higher on the Richter Scale. The earthquake and resulting aftershocks affected approximately 3 million people, with the death toll estimated at anywhere from 100,000 to 159,000 people. The Haitian government estimated there were 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings and businesses that had collapsed or had been extremely damaged.

Port-au-Prince suffered extensive damage, as well as Jacmel and other cities in the region. Several landmarks such as the Presidential Palace, Port-au-Prince Cathedral, and the National Assembly were heavily damaged or destroyed, among others.

What Caused the Earthquake?

Haiti’s 7.0 earthquake occurred inland on the blind thrust faults that are associated with the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault system. It is believed that the earthquake had nothing to do with any significant movement or lateral slip of the Enquillo fault; they found no evidence of a surface rupture. The resulting earthquake was felt in several surrounding countries including Cuba, Venezuela, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The damage was more destructive than other earthquakes of similar strength due to the shallow depth of the quake itself.

The earthquake happened due to pressure or stress build up along the plates that converge over Haiti; the Caribbean tectonic plate and the North American Plate – which shifts approximately 20mm or 0.79 inches per year. The region has two strike slip fault areas in Haiti, the Septemtrional-Oriente fault and the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault, which had not seen much movement in 250 years. The earthquake is believed to have only slightly relieved some of the built up stress from the constant movements of the plates.


Unlike the earthquake in the Indian Ocean which resulted in a massive tsunami that swept across the ocean, the Haiti earthquake resulted in a smaller wave. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did issue a warning shortly after the earthquake, but cancelled it soon after. It took two weeks after the earthquake to discover that a localized wave did in fact hit a small beach fishing town of Petit Paradis in which three people were swept out to sea. It is believed that this wave was caused by an underwater slide.                      

Earthquake Survival Kit in a Can

Survival in a Can

Here is a simple way to begin your home preparedness plan.
Fill a plastic container with enough supplies to last you or your family for 72 hours.

Supplies for your grab-and-go bag

Choose a Container

Plastic containers come in all shapes and sizes, they’re water and rodent proof, and are fairly durable. Choose the size that suits you needs. Be sure container comes with a securing lid.

Top of Container:

2 quarts of water per person per day in durable containers, flashlight, portable
radio, first aid kit, first aid book, blankets or sleeping bags for each person, work gloves, dry chemical fire extinguisher, clock or watch, and a crescent wrench for turning off the gas main.

Middle of Container:

Include food items like: juices, peanut butter, crackers, nuts, dried fruit or raisins, a change of clothing (one per person) including foul weather gear. For sanitary supplies, include diapers, bleach, paper towels, and toilet paper. Store miscellaneous supplies such as candles, matches or lighter, hand operated can opener, batteries (wrap- ped in plastic), pencils, marking pens, paper for leaving notes. You may also want to include a good book, a couple of magazines, newspaper, crossword puzzles, and some simple toys.

Bottom of Container:

Canned foods that are eatable warm or cold, and pet food; cooking utensils, including Sterno, stove, fuel, cooking pot, paper plates, aluminum foil and garbage bags; tools such as screw- drivers, pliers, hammer, rope, wire, duct tape etc.

Label the container EMERGENCY SUPPLIES, and place the it in a safe and easily accessible place.

Modified from: The American Red Cross

Earthquake insurance

 Earthquake Insurance

If I don’t live along the fault line in California, Oregon and Washington, why would I need to consider earthquake insurance? That is a very good question so let’s share some facts about earthquakes. Although the west coast is an active earthquake area in the U.S., other hotspots are known for their activity. Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, also in the west, but moving east there are known hotspots in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina and much of Hawaii and Alaska.

» Read more

Earthquake in Andalusia in 1884

Earthquake is a common natural phenomenon that occurs due to the movement of tectonic plates, the appearance of impact or the movement of the Earth’s crust. Earthquakes can occur naturally or as a result of human activity (explosions, nuclear tests). Although the largest number of earthquakes of low intensity occur on small pinnacles or at the bottom of the ocean, earthquakes can be extremely intense and devastating, which is generally considered to be one of the most terrible natural disasters. That kind of terrible earthquake struck Andalusia on Christmas in 1884. It was a more horrific earthquake in the history of Andalusia that took many lives and inflicted a lot of material damage.

Christmas, just like every year in Andalusia, began cheerfully, and it was not even announced that it would mark the catastrophe of enormous proportions at the end of the holiday. The elderly were preparing a holiday table, the children were looking forward to gifts. Everything was christened with a holiday spirit and mood and the day went into joy. Christmas was supposed to be the happiest and most beautiful day of the year when the family is gathering together and celebrating the holiday together. However, the holiday mood was abruptly stopped when the large building began to vibrate. Eight minutes after nine o’clock in the evening, Ventas de Zafarraya Fault vibrated for about 20 seconds and it was the beginning of a disaster that hit Andalusia on Christmas in 1884. (McDonald, 2010) The epicenter of the quake was south of the central region of Sierra de Tejeda, and the total damage was on the surface almost recently 6400 Km2.

About the damage, the 29th first reported to El Defensor de Granada. However, the poor communication and the isolation of the affected villages delayed his departure so that Madrid only later became acquainted with the events in Andalusia. At first, the Madridians thought it was about the Andalusian preterm and the exaggeration of the events, so they sent the correspondents only on January 8th. In the meantime, the population of Andalusia was confronted with the terrible consequences of the earthquake. Those who became homeless, traumatized and injured by the earthquake, were left to the local resources. Winter that year, unluckily, was the coldest by then, so many injured people quickly succumbed to injuries. (

All villages and towns in Andalusia suffered a damage. The total number of reported deaths ranged from 750 to 900, more than 1800 were injured and 14,000 houses were destroyed. The village of Albuñuelas suffered perhaps the worst damage. The cities Canillas de Albaida and Cómpeta. Out of a total of 1640 inhabitants, the number of people in the village, 200 people died and 500 were injured. Near Zafarraia after the earthquake, large holes were opened, while in the west, in the Plaza de la Victoria, the earthquake damaged many large buildings. In the northwest of Sierra Tejed, in Perian, 57 deaths have been reported.

The first external aid that came to Andalusia was organized by El Defensor de Granada, and when the outside world became aware of the size of the disaster, many magazines began to form funds to help the victims. Soon came the help from the national level, first from Córdoba and then to Seville, and the construction of wooden cabins for the inhabitants of Albuñuelas began. In April 1885, an international aid fund was established, which together with the national fund had collected 6,455,985 Pesetas (Euro equivalent of 38,801). (Casado et al.)

Although the earthquake in Andalusia from 1884 is largely remembered by the fact that it caused a great catastrophe that took many lives, it can be said that people certainly learned at least one lesson. The houses began to be made with a maximum of two floors and with no more than nine and a half meters in height, and the streets had to be at least 10 meters wide. Today’s buildings, that is, the buildings are constructed to withstand a strong earthquake that, according to estimates, is unlikely to happen in the next 100 years.


Car insurance and earthquakes

Large earthquakes may be a rare occurrence compared to other natural disasters, but they can cause major damage if they happen. In 2014 the value of insured damages was $150 million.

A large part of the destruction was because of the ground shaking. It can result in damaged roads, broken cars, damage to garages and other buildings, broken pipelines, landslides, rock falls, and more.

If you have the right car insurance coverage, you can be happy knowing your auto insurance will help you repair your car if it is damages because of an earthquake.


But you need to be sure that you insurance covers damages caused by earthquakes. You should contact your insurance company and find out if you are insured.

Read more at AIS Insurance about auto insurance and earthquakes or at Bilforsikring. also has a good article about earth quakes and car insurance.

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