The tragedies of the recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti serve as a reminder that parts of the United States are highly vulnerable to the devastating effects of this unpredictable natural disaster.
While most Americans believe earthquakes are a catastrophe that primarily strikes California, there are major fault lines located in numerous other areas around the United States.
Julie Rochman, president and CEO of the Tampa-based Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), warns that a high severity earthquake, similar to the ones that recently ravaged Chile and Haiti, is likely to strike in the United States, and we need to prepare now.
“Many people don’t realize there is a huge fault line in the central U.S. known as the New Madrid fault, as well as a significant fault line in South Carolina,” Rochman said. “And, of course, California and the Pacific Northwest are sitting on top of numerous fault lines.”
“Interestingly, about 200 years separated Haiti from its last major quake and the most recent one, and it has been nearly 200 years since the devastating 1811-1812 earthquakes struck along the New Madrid Fault, which begins in Missouri and travels through five states,” Rochman said.
The wreckage caused by this weekend’s earthquake in Chile appears far less widespread than that from the recent quake in Haiti, despite the fact that Chile’s quake was an 8.8 magnitude and Haiti’s was 7.0.
“While there are many dissimilarities between the two catastrophes that account for the variation in the levels of destruction, one of the primary reasons Chile fared better than Haiti is because the country has imposed tough building codes in recent decades, rendering modern structures more likely to survive any given quake. Construction in Haiti, sadly, was not governed by modern building codes,” Rochman stated.
Unfortunately, there remain many earthquake-prone areas in the United States that also lack effective building codes, or where building code enforcement is inconsistent, according to Rochman.
IIBHS contends that enforcement of modern building codes is a major step toward becoming better prepared for an earthquake. Building codes provide minimum acceptable safety standards used to regulate the design, construction and maintenance of buildings.
“Earthquakes are not like blizzards or hurricanes,” Rochman said. “We cannot predict when one is going to hit. Accordingly, we must prepare now, and the first step is the adoption of stronger seismic building codes. The time to take action is before, not after, a catastrophe like a major earthquake hits.”
IBHS recently released a white paper, which includes a review of the three primary earthquake-prone areas in the United States, as well as a state-by-state analysis of seismic provisions in building codes.
The Institute also offers an earthquake retrofit guide, which provides a list of structural and non-structural upgrades designed to enhance a building’s ability to withstand the effects of a quake.
IBHS is an independent, nonprofit, scientific and educational organization supported by the property insurance industry. The organization works to reduce the social and economic effects of natural disasters and other risks to residential and commercial property by conducting research and advocating improved construction, maintenance and preparation practices.
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