Unless you live in a typical earthquake zone like Los Angeles or Vancouver, British Columbia, you may not think that your community association needs to give much thought to earthquakes. Contrary to popular belief, earthquakes can occur most anywhere in North America. In fact, in 2017, the United States has had nearly 21,000 earthquakes of magnitude 1.5 or more, and Canada has had nearly 400.
As unpredictable as earthquakes can be, your community association should be prepared in case you ever feel the unmistakable rumble of a tremor. Here’s what you need to know.
Earthquake insurance is a prudent investment even if you live in an area that is not especially prone to earthquakes. “This is coverage that most associations do not think of and absolutely should,” says Jamie George, vice president of insurance at FirstService Financial. “Associations should at least obtain quotes and consider carrying some coverage even if full limits are not affordable or in the budget.”
Similar to flood insurance, premium rates for earthquake policies will be much lower in places that rarely experience earthquake damage. However, George points out that many associations learned a painful lesson as a result of the flooding that occurred with Hurricane Harvey. “It hit in areas that were ‘never’ predicted to flood,” she says, “so there were many associations and homeowners caught with damage and no coverage.”
Your community association should already have an emergency preparedness plan that can apply in a variety of emergency situations. “This plan should address things like the location of fire extinguishers and first aid kits, emergency equipment requirements and training,” says Rodney Riepenhoff, corporate engineer for FirstService Residential.
“In addition, it should detail how you will communicate with residents in an emergency,” he says. “Not knowing what to do next can be very disconcerting for residents, so a reliable emergency communication system is something we think is an important component of any emergency preparedness plan.” Riepenhoff adds, “That’s why we provide residents who live in our managed communities with access to our communication system. In an emergency, we send them texts, voice messages or emails with instructions and other information they may need.”
Emergency training for board members is another critical component of an association’s plan, according to Riepenhoff. “We periodically conduct emergency preparedness training for board members so they will know what to do if an emergency like an earthquake were to occur,” he explains. “Even though our associates would step in as quickly as possible to assist our communities, it could take time to get there safely if they’re not already onsite. In that case, residents should be able to turn to their board for guidance.”
One of the best ways to help your community in the event of an earthquake is to educate residents about earthquake safety regularly. “Some boards will invite us out to train everyone in their community,” says Riepenhoff. He also recommends sharing information using a variety of communication channels to ensure that safety information gets distributed far and wide: emails, articles in your community newsletter, postings on your community website and presentations and handouts at annual meetings.