Earthquake Raises Questions about Coverage, Construction Codes

April 25, 2008

Two weeks after a 5.2 level earthquake rocked the Midwest from Cairo to Atlanta, geologists and the industry are still discussing the impact of the quake–such as increases in the purchase of earthquake insurance.

Earthquake endorsement
State Farm insurance spokeswoman Missy Lundberg said that although she can’t provide exact numbers, there has been a huge increase by policyholders opting to add the earthquake endorsement, particularly in Southern Illinois. Lundberg was careful to explain who is covered immediately and who is not.

“Policyholders who live less than 100 miles from the epicenter of the quake must wait 30 days before the coverage is there,” she said. “Of course if you are outside the 100 mile limit, coverage is immediate.”

Those types of restrictions raise the question about the probablility of another quake hitting Illinois in the next several weeks.


Russ Wheeler, a reseach geologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said that there is no way to predict the probability of another quake hitting at any specific time.

“There are no hard and fast instruments or scientific ways of determining that kind of probability, ” Wheeler said. Hwever, he did say that although this earthquake was sizable, the quakes that shook the Midwest in 1811 and 1812 were probably 8 on the Richtor scale and explained that the devastation could have been worse if the area had been more populated.

In the scientific community some say earthquakes hit the Midwest each year and this group is willing to make predictions.

Illinois experiences one earthquake annually USGS, one of the nation’s leading authority on earthquakes. The last quake to cause damage measured 5.0 in magnitude and occurred near Lawrenceville and Olney in 1987 and was felt as far north as Chicago..

USGS seismologists estimate chances that a quake measuring 6.3 or greater will strike the Midwest in the next 15 years at 40 percent to 63 percent. That likelihood jumps to 100 percent in the next 50 years.

Construction issues
What if a sizable earthquake hit the Midwest in the next 5 or 10 years? Would buildings be able to withstand the quake as many do in the West coast where there are building codes?

Keith Lessner, vice president of loss control for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) said that the Illinois earthquake provides an excellent opportunity to create greater awareness of the need for appropriate building codes throughout the United States and in particular in the Midwest.

“In the last few years most attention related to building codes has focused on wind damage in hurricane prone areas,” Lessner said. “But regardless of the peril, building codes can play an important role in saving lives and reducing property losses. Retrofitting homes and businesses to meet current codes can also provide an extra measure of safety and security from the potential of natural disaster.”

Lessner added that while many states in the Midwest that would be affected by activity in the New Madrid and Wabash Valley seismic zones do not have statewide building codes, they all have codes that regulate some aspects of building. At a minimum the PCI would like to see communities that are in areas of highest risk take steps to strengthen their building codes to minimize the potential for loss. Additionally, it is important for residents and businesses to take precautionary steps to secure their property from earthquake damage.

This is a wake up call that we hope will not be ignored, Lessner said.

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.