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Earthquake Insurance: An Invaluable Asset in California

After Alaska, California is the state with the most earthquakes. New maps recently released by the California Geological Survey reveal 50 extra earthquake fault lines in the state among some 15,000 previously identified. More than 70 percent of the state's population lives within 30 miles of a fault, where intense ground shaking could occur in the next 50 years, according to the California Department of Conservation.

Despite that, nearly 90percent of California homeowners and home renters do not have earthquake insurance, according to the state's Department of Insurance.

"With a catastrophic earthquake a near certainty in the next few decades, far too few homeowners have a financial recovery plan in place," says Candysse Miller, executive director of the Insurance Information Network of California. "The result could be billions of dollars in uninsured damage to homes and small businesses."

Homeowners insurance isn't enough

Most standard homeowners, mobile home, condominium and home renters insurance policies do not cover earthquake damage. You must purchase earthquake insurance for coverage, according to the California Earthquake Authority (CEA), a public organization that provides this type of insurance through affiliated private insurers. But prior to doing so, you should do your homework.

  1. Find out the likelihood of an earthquake. Risk depends on proximity to faults, age and type of home, and soil type where you live.
  2. Secure your home and its contents. This may lower the probability of damage or injury.
  3. Analyze your finances. You must pay the original home's mortgage, rent a second home, and replace property and possessions in the event an earthquake causes damage to your home
  4. Consider a mini-policy. It may allow you to buy cheap insurance, but it won't replace non-essentials, such as swimming pools.
  5. Verify the insured value of your property in your homeowners insurance policy. If you are underinsured, purchase additional coverage. The value on your home insurance policy should be the same for your earthquake coverage.
  6. Shop around. Compare insurance rates and coverage limits. The goal is to purchase effective, yet cheap insurance.
  7. Consider protection for related disasters. Tsunamis and fires are also possible after an earthquake.
  8. Understand that government help is limited. Public relief programs may get you "partly back on your feet," the CEA says, but those program will not "replace your home and everything you lose."

Miller describes living in California without earthquake insurance as going to the beach without sunscreen. "You're completely exposed and you can get burned."

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