In preparing for the ‘big one,’ don’t forget insurance
Although add-on coverage is pricey, homeowners urged to consider it.

By LESLEY MITCHELL

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: May 20, 2012 11:22AM
Updated: May 21, 2012 07:49AM
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Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune In recent weeks National Guard units, businesses and families have been going though a series of exercises to prepare for a big earthquake that experts say could hit a wide swatch of Utah at some point.

Preparedness plan. Earthquake drills. Emergency food and water supplies.

Utah families and business in recent weeks have been going though a series of exercises to prepare for a big earthquake that experts say could hit a wide swatch of Utah at some point — one that could cause an estimated 7,600 deaths and $18 billion in losses tied to physical damages, loss of jobs and economic activity.

But many homeowners haven’t given much thought to earthquake insurance — even though they could be financially devastated if an earthquake hits and they don’t have it. At insurer State Farm, only 15-20 percent of those with homeowner’s policies carry optional earthquake coverage, spokeswoman Angela Thorpe said.

Most policies don’t cover damage caused by earthquakes. If one damages your home and you haven’t purchased the additional coverage, you’re still obligated to pay your mortgage — even if you can’t live there anymore and you have to pay for somewhere else to live.

A big obstacle is cost. Coverage is not cheap — it costs hundreds, even thousands of dollars per year depending on where your home is located and the materials used in construction. Many policies run $400 to $600 annually.

In the event of a quake, you must pay a fairly high deductible before coverage kicks in — typically 10 percent. That means if you have $250,000 in coverage, you would pay a deductible of $25,000.

Another reason why so few purchase earthquake insurance is the uncertainty surrounding quakes and their frequency. Many people just think it’s such a remote possibility in their lifetimes that it’s not worth the cost, said Brad Tibbitts, director of the Utah Department of Insurance’s property and casualty division.

But Tibbitts urges Utah homeowners to at least consider the coverage and investigate the cost.

Some major insurance companies, such as Allstate, do not sell earthquake insurance in Utah, but even if your insurance company doesn’t, it can refer you to a company that does. In other cases, as with State Farm, earthquake coverage can be purchased as an add-on to an existing homeowner’s policy.

The best place to start is your homeowner’s insurance agent, but as with any type of insurance, it pays to shop around. Premiums vary, as do deductibles, which range from 5 percent to 20 percent.

Ultimately, the decision whether to purchase this type of insurance is related to your finances — whether you can afford a fairly pricey type of specialty insurance —and how worried you are about the risk of an earthquake.

“This is something you need to think about,” Tibbitts said.

Jared Balis, owner of Utah Insurance Advisors in Salt Lake City, has earthquake coverage on his own home and recommend clients who are homeowners purchase the coverage.

Many people don’t think earthquake coverage is worth the cost, he says. “It’s like disability insurance or life insurance ... you don’t expect to become disabled or to die prematurely — but you still need the coverage,” he said. “You have to think about what would happen if your home is destroyed. If you can afford earthquake insurance, you should have it.”

According to the Utah Seismic Safety Commission, 90 percent of the state’s population lives in earthquake zones. A “seismic belt” about 100 miles wide extends north - south along the Wasatch Front and through Richfield to Cedar City and St. George

The commission’s estimate of 7,600 deaths and $18 billion in losses is based on a magnitude 7.5 quake in the Salt Lake City area.

Lesley Mitchell writes One Cheap Chick in blog form at blogs.sltrib.com/cheap. lesley@sltrib.com Twitter: @cheapchick Facebook.com/OneCheapChick

Earthquake preparedness

For more information about the risk of earthquakes in Utah, go to bit.ly/JHcGmR or 1.usa.gov/diMUO7.

For more information about earthquake insurance coverage in Utah, go to 1.usa.gov/H6thza.

The Utah Department of Insurance has a list of companies selling earthquake coverage in Utah, at 1.usa.gov/KYRG9u.