SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – California faces an extremely high risk of a major earthquake occurring within the next 30 years, but few residents are prepared for what could be a $7 billion disaster, concluded several seismic specialists at a panel discussion here Nov. 17, organized by New America Media.
Northern Californians face a 76 percent chance of a 7.0 magnitude earthquake, while Southern Californians face a 99 percent chance of an earthquake registering 6.7 on the Richter scale within the next three decades, predicted Chris Nance, chief communications officer for the California Earthquake Authority.
Keith Knudsen, deputy director of the Earthquake Science Center at the U.S. Geological Survey, noted that the rate of earthquake occurrence has not changed, but more people are living in hazardous zones.
The average cost to rebuild a home after an earthquake similar to San Francisco’s 1906 temblor – which measured 7.8 – would be approximately $565,000, said Nance, noting that fewer than 10 percent of California’s residents have earthquake insurance.
“The government will not bail you out after an earthquake,” said Nance, noting that federal grants are limited to safety and sanitation issues, and generally top out at $33,000.
The 2014 earthquake in South Napa created an estimated $350 million to $1 billion in damages. The average grant for repairs was just $3500, noted Nance.
Homeowners’ insurance and renters’ insurance does not cover damage caused by earthquakes, he clarified, urging homeowners and renters to purchase earthquake insurance. Premiums begin at about $800 a year for homeowners, and can be purchased through the http://www2.earthquakeauthority.com/ Web site.
Moreover, the Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA – cannot distribute disaster relief funds until the president makes a declaration of a disaster, said Nance, noting that the process could take months.
Victims of an earthquake may be able to qualify for a loan to repair damage, but then must pay back the loan on top of an existing mortgage, noted Nance.
The San Francisco Bay Area is populated with older homes, dating back to the 1940s. In San Francisco, many buildings constructed before the 1970s have weak first storeys, said Patrick Otellini, chief resilience officer and director of the Office of Resilience and Recovery for the City and County of San Francisco. “When the ground starts shaking, you can see the deficiencies.”
San Francisco offers a $3,000 rebate to its residents who retrofit to come up to an amended building code – part of a 30-year earthquake preparedness plan – said Otellini, noting that by 2020, 20,000 residents will live in retrofitted homes, but densely populated areas, such as Chinatown, will remain vulnerable to massive earthquake damage.
Public schools in the city have been retrofitted to comply with the amended building code, noted Otellini. “We have overwhelmingly mitigated the risk in public schools,” he said
But the city’s 107 private schools, which educate 125,000 children, cannot be forced to comply, as many are faith-based.
Janiele Maffei, chief mitigation officer at the California Earthquake Authority, noted that California offers the Earthquake Brace and Bolt program, in which homeowners can be reimbursed up to $3,000 for a simple seismic retrofit. The seismic retrofitting involves bolting the house to its foundation and adding bracing around the perimeter of the crawl space. Anchor bolts in the crawl space improve the connection between the wood framing of a building and its concrete foundation, while bracing involves adding plywood to cripple walls to help keep the house from toppling off the foundation during an earthquake.
The retrofit can be done in two days, said Maffei, noting that experienced do-it-yourself homeowners can make the adjustments without a contractor.
A seismic retrofit can cost between $3,000 to $7,000. The state focuses on particular zip codes each year, and conducts a random selection of registrants. Homeowners wishing to participate in the program can check the Web site www.earthquakebracebolt.com to see if their zip code qualifies in 2017. About 2,000 homes will be selected for reimbursement next year, said Maffei.