New Forecast Increases Odds for Huge Earthquake in California

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 (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

A new earthquake forecast model by the U.S. Geological Survey has mixed news for Californians. The new model estimates the state will have fewer moderate-sized earthquakes in the next 30 years than was previously estimated. But the odds of a truly huge temblor of 8.0 or higher on the Richter scale, similar to the quake of 1906, have increased from 4.7 to 7 percent.

Show Highlights

Michael Krasny: Now here's a question from a listener, Kurt, who lives in Oakland, who wants to know -- he says this will help laymen out there decide if earthquake insurance is worthwhile -- he wants each of the panelists to say where do you live and do you have earthquake coverage for your home. Maybe Tim, begin with you.

Tim Dawson: Okay, put us on the spot. I live in San Francisco and we actually I live in what's called a Tenancy In Common. It's basically a condo complex and because of that we have to make these joint decisions so we haven't gotten to the point where we've carried earthquake insurance for the building. That's going to require some decisions as a group. But what we have done even though it's not required by the city right now in our instance, is that we've decided to go ahead with a retrofit of our building. So we're going to be bolting down the foundations, we're going to be strengthening our garages.

MK: Did you get money from Patrick?

TD: No, I didn't. I wish I had.


Tim Dawson, engineering geologist with the California Geological Survey

Patrick Otellini, chief resilience officer and director of earthquake safety for the City and County of San Francisco

Richard Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley

Morgan Page, research geophysicist with the USGS in Pasadena


MK: Patrick, you live here in the city...

Patrick Otellini:  I do. I live here in the city. I do not have coverage. And this is a question I get asked a lot and people say "Why is it that the earthquake insurance uptick is only about 10% in the state" It's very expensive and the California Earthquake Authority has a tough challenge of trying to bring those rates down. This $3,000 rebate program that they launched was a way to try to reduce risk in an alternative way. And when people asked me how their money is better spent, I tend to say your money is better spent retrofitting. I think if you retrofit your home, you know you don't need to cash in on an insurance policy, so I think that?s the ultimate benefit.

MK: Richard Allen, you live in the East bay.

Richard Allen: I live in the East Bay, that's right. I work at Berkeley, which is right on the Hayward fault. So let me sort of make a comment on that. U.C. Berkeley has actually invested $2 billion so far to retrofit all of its buildings on campus including the building that I work in. In terms of my home ... I live in Orinda now, which is pretty much halfway between the Hayward fault and the Calaveras fault, so in that sense I have moved as far away from the fault as I can in the Bay Area. I do not have earthquake insurance but I did buy a house that was built after the upgrades. Patrick mentioned the improvements to the building codes -- the big ones were in 1978 and 1995. So if you have property that was built after those dates it makes a big difference to the ones built before those dates.

MK: Let me go, Morgan Page, to you. You're in Pasadena.

Morgan Page: Yes, yes. And I recently bought a house a single story wood frame house that's about one hundred years old and I didn't buy earthquake insurance but before moving in we had the house bolted to the foundation and we also had the cripple walls -- that's a problem that can happen in older homes -- we had the cripple walls braced. That will hopefully prevent major damage if an earthquake hit.