Unlike tornadoes and hurricanes - weather events that typically only occur during certain times of the year - natural disasters like earthquakes are unique because they can occur at any time and in virtually any place, despite previous happenings routinely coming from the West Coast.
What's also separates temblors from other natural catastrophes is that they generally can't be forecasted in the same way that atmospheric weather disturbances can.
With this in mind, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says that there are some basic preparations that homeowners can take where they can protect themselves, their families and their most significant financial investment - their home.
Home inspection to determine residence age, structure quality key
Perhaps the best tack homeowner can take is determining how old their home is. As a general rule, the older it is, the more at risk it is for significant damage, as the framing and structure typically weakens over time. FEMA notes that a good sign that a home may be susceptible to an earthquake is if framing structures aren't anchored to the foundation, post-and-pier foundations that aren't braced and masonry walls that are exposed by not being reinforced.
Determining this may be difficult for people who are unfamiliar with the architectural design, so it's advisable to recruit the services of a house inspection company. Not only can they discover what frailties are apparent but they should also be able to give a sound estimate on when the property was built, based chiefly on the design and structural composition.
Something else homeowners can do is rid their homes of pieces of furniture or wall mountings that could cause serious injury if they were to fall over or break free from their mountings. FEMA notes that what's in a home can be more dangerous - if not more so - than the structure itself. As such, any and all unsecured objects that can break or tip over should either be taken down or firmly reinforced so that only a significant earthquake could pry it loose.
If homeowners use gas to heat their homes, an earthquake could cause a leak. FEMA recommends speaking with one's natural gas provider to see if they can install flexible connectors that reduce the risk of components detaching.
Is the residence properly insured?
Even with these precautions in place, earthquakes can still do serious damage to a home. Property owners should ensure that they have the necessary insurance protection, as many people operate under the assumption that their coverage is included in their standard homeowners' insurance policy. But according to the Insurance Information Institute, that's generally not the case. In fact, even in an earthquake-prone state like California, most carriers do not include earthquake coverage. It must be purchased separately.
"Earthquakes can strike suddenly, without warning and can occur at any time, and in any season of the year," said Loretta Worters, III vice president and consumer spokesperson. "That's why it's important that everyone, no matter where they live, contact an insurance professional to make sure that they have the right type and amount of insurance."
Some people have speculated that earthquakes are occurring with greater frequency and are stronger than they have in the past. However, the U.S. Geographical Survey says that serious earthquakes - those that register a magnitude of 7.0 or higher on the Richter Scale - haven't become more common.
There is some evidence to suggest that more earthquakes are occurring, but USGS indicates that much of this is due to their being an increased number of station in which temblors can be tracked and recorded.