Experts Warn Insurance Regulators About Dangers of New Madrid Fault

December 11, 2006

Earthquake, insurance and building code experts from across the country today warned state insurance regulators of the catastrophic consequences when middle America experiences a replay of the 1811 and 1812 New Madrid series of earthquakes, and recommended that the regulators support a comprehensive solution that includes financial protections, public education, stronger building codes and strengthening first responders to better prepare for such an event.

Robert Porter, executive director of; Dr. Timothy Reinhold, vice president of engineering for the Institute for Business & Home Safety; and James Dalessandro, earthquake historian, author and screenwriter, delivered their message during a presentation to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) New Madrid Subgroup as part of the NAIC’s Winter 2006 meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

Between 1811 and 1812, four catastrophic earthquakes struck the central United States during a 3-month period and were felt by an area of over 1 million square miles in what was then rural America. Scientists predict that the probability for an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 or greater in the Midsouth and Midwest is significant in the near future. According to a June 2006 Risk Management Solutions report, a magnitude 7.7 New Madrid earthquake, similar to the one that occurred in December of 1811, is estimated to result in over $60 billion in insured losses today.

“The area exposed to the New Madrid fault — home to millions of people and major population centers including St. Louis and Memphis — is just as at risk to a major catastrophe as Florida and the Northeast are to hurricanes and the Pacific Coast is to earthquakes. We need to implement a comprehensive, integrated solution at the state and national levels that will create a permanent and growing financial reserve as a backstop to the private insurance market, while also using investment earnings to prevent and mitigate the damage from future catastrophes by establishing better land-use planning, stronger building codes, homeowner education programs and strengthening first responders,” said Porter.

“The commissioners realize that America is not prepared for a continued onslaught of catastrophes, and their efforts to find a solution deserve recognition,” he added.

“The kinds of major earthquakes that have happened repeatedly in the New Madrid area impose tremendous lateral forces on structures. The key to survival is for the structure to be able to absorb the energy from the earthquake without sustaining so much damage that the structure collapses. We know from experience that implementation of modern engineering based building codes, where design requirements are tailored to the area’s unique risks, provide the most effective way to begin improving a city’s resiliency. The New Madrid area must understand its unique geography and enforce specific building code initiatives based on its individual risks,” explained Dr. Timothy A. Reinhold, vice president of engineering for the Institute for Business & Home Safety.

James Dalessandro, charter member, earthquake historian, author and documentary filmmaker about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, said that public awareness needs to be increased in the central United States regarding the potential for another massive earthquake.

“When one studies the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake for ten years as I have, it leads you to study another series of seismic events that were even greater in scope than that which occurred here. In the winter of 1811 and 1812, the Central Mississippi Valley was rocked by a series of four earthquakes, each of which was as powerful, or more so, than the San Andreas event, and each of which affected an area several times the size of the Northern California event. While we in California have had repeated wake-up calls — Loma Prieta in 1989, Northridge in 1994, and several others — our friends and neighbors in the Midwest have been lulled into a false sense of security. Scientists at the USGS are more concerned about a seismic event in the Midwest than they are about one in California, for the simple reason that Californians are infinitely more prepared,” Dalessandro said.

“I joined to try to help change that, and wake up our friends in the Midsouth and Midwest before it happens, and not afterward,” he continued.

The Institute for Business & Home Safety works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other property losses by conducting research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparation practices. While not a member of, IBHS agrees that we need to be better prepared and protected from natural catastrophes. currently consists of more than 150 member organizations including emergency management officials, first responders, disaster relief experts, large and small businesses, nonprofit organizations and insurers.


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