Do Kansans need earthquake insurance?

Damaging earthquakes are rare in Kansas. But when they happen elsewhere, Kansans have stepped up. In January 2010, these volunteers in Wichita packed meals to ship to victims in Haiti.

TOPEKA — If you live in the Wichita area, you’ve probably thought about insurance coverage for floods, tornadoes and fires. But earthquakes? Do we really need to worry about earthquakes in Kansas?

Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger said today that recent earthquakes in Oklahoma and out east have elevated people’s awareness, and her office noted that Kansas has fault lines running through the state.

“Earthquake coverage is not a part of a regular homeowners, renters or condominium insurance policy,” she said in a prepared statement. “If your company offers it, coverage can be added by including an endorsement to your policy or by purchasing a separate earthquake policy. In either case, you will pay an extra premium.”

But one of the state’s top earthquake experts who has studied tremors for more than 30 years said he wouldn’t buy the insurance for his home.

“When people call me and ask if they should take out earthquake insurance, I tell them it’s fairly cheap and if you’ll sleep better at night and can afford it, go for it,” said Don Steeples, a McGee Distinguished professor of geophysics at the University of Kansas.

The last earthquake to cause significant damage in the Wichita area was a 5.2 to 5.5 magnitude quake in 1867 along the Nemaha Ridge, which runs roughly from Omaha to Oklahoma City. That quake started near Manhattan.

The Humbolt Fault runs along the Nemaha’s eastern edge near El Dorado. It is capable of producing earthquakes of up to 6.0 on the Richter Scale.  But Steeples said an earthquake of that magnitude happens only about every 2,000 years.An earthquake in 1989 was strong enough to knock some plaster off the walls in a farmer’s home about 25 miles northwest of Hays, Steeples said.

The most recent notable quake felt in the Wichita area appears to have been April 18, 2008, when some Wichitans who were up before sunrise may have felt a greatly diminished tremor stemming from a 5.2 magnitude earthquake centered in southeast Illinois.

But earthquakes to the south, east and west of Kansas may lead some to consider earthquake coverage.

“Your best source for determining your need and coverage levels is your local insurance agent or agency,” Praeger said.

She offered the following considerations when exploring coverage options:

  • Coverage can protect your dwelling, other structures like a garage and your personal property. It may cover increased costs to meeting current building codes and costs to stabilize the land under your dwelling.
  • Coverage doesn’t include damage to your vehicles. That may be covered under your current automobile policy.  Check with your local insurance agent or company to verify the vehicle coverage.
  • Insuring a dwelling for its appraisal or loan value likely means you will only have enough coverage to repay your lender. You should review your dwelling coverage from time to time to be sure it doesn’t drop below the cost to replace your home.
  • Questions to ask yourself:  How much would it cost to repair or rebuild your home? How much would it cost to replace your household items? How much would it cost to find a temporary place to live because you couldn’t live in your home after an earthquake?
  • The deductible for earthquake insurance usually is 10-20 percent of the coverage limit. This is different from a homeowners policy, which is usually only one flat amount deductible, like $500 or $1,000.
  • The time to buy the coverage is before an earthquake.  Most insurers won’t sell any new earthquake insurance for 30 to 60 days after a recent earthquake.
  • As with any household coverage, make a household inventory. Go through each room to write down and video everything in the room.  Store the inventory in a secure place at another location, such as a safe deposit box. (For a download of a Personal Home Inventory, go to www.ksinsurance.org and click on “Publications.”)
  • Put your agent’s or company’s toll-free number into your cell phone directory.