State insurance regulators meeting in San Antonio, Texas, heard experts on earthquakes, insurance and building codes warn of the catastrophic consequences that will occur if there is a replay of the 1811 and 1812 New Madrid series of earthquakes in the Midwest.
Addressing the National Association of Insurance Commissioners winter meeting were Robert Porter, executive director of ProtectingAmerica.org; Timothy Reinhold, vice president of engineering for the Institute for Business & Home Safety; and James Dalessandro, earthquake historian, author and screenwriter.
A report of their comments to the NAIC New Madrid Subgroup was contained in a statement from ProtectingAmerica.org.
They called on members of the NAIC to support preparation for an event such as the New Madrid quakes with a comprehensive solution that includes financial protections, public education, stronger building codes and strengthening first responders.
The New Madrid events involved four catastrophic earthquakes ripping the central United States during a 3-month period with an impact felt in an area of over 1 million square miles in what was then rural America.
Scientists predict that the probability for an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 or greater in the Midsouth and Midwest is significant in the near future.
According to a June 2006 Risk Management Solutions estimate, a magnitude 7.7 New Madrid earthquake, similar to the one that occurred in December of 1811, would cause insured losses today of more than $60 billion.
Mr. Porter said, “The area exposed to the New Madrid fault–home to millions of people and major population centers including St. Louis and Memphis–is just as at risk to a major catastrophe as Florida and the Northeast are to hurricanes and the Pacific Coast is to earthquakes.”
He told the NAIC group, “We need to implement a comprehensive, integrated solution at the state and national levels that will create a permanent and growing financial reserve as a backstop to the private insurance market…”
Mr. Porter said creation of a backstop should be done, “while also using investment earnings to prevent and mitigate the damage from future catastrophes by establishing better land-use planning, stronger building codes, homeowner education programs and strengthening first responders.”
He added, “The commissioners realize that America is not prepared for a continued onslaught of catastrophes, and their efforts to find a solution deserve recognition.”
Mr. Porter noted that the kind of quakes occurring in the New Madrid area put tremendous lateral forces on buildings.
Implementation of modern engineering-based building codes, where design requirements are tailored to the area’s unique risks, provide the most effective way to begin improving a city’s resiliency against quakes, he said.
The New Madrid area, advised Mr. Reinhold, “must understand its unique geography and enforce specific building code initiatives based on its individual risks.”
Mr. Dalessandro, a ProtectingAmerica.org charter member, who has made a documentary film about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, said that public awareness needs to be increased in the central United States regarding the potential for another massive earthquake.
“When one studies the 1906 San Francisco earthquake for ten years as I have, it leads you to study another series of seismic events that were even greater in scope than that which occurred here.
“In the winter of 1811 and 1812, the Central Mississippi Valley was rocked by a series of four earthquakes, each of which was as powerful, or more so, than the San Andreas event, and each of which affected an area several times the size of the Northern California event.”
Mr. Dalessandro said while California has been awakened to the danger with quakes such as Loma Prieta in 1989, Northridge in 1994 and several others, “our friends and neighbors in the Midwest have been lulled into a false sense of security.”
According to Mr. Dalessandro, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey are more concerned about a seismic event in the Midwest than they are about one in California, “for the simple reason that Californians are infinitely more prepared.”
“I joined ProtectingAmerica.org to try to help change that, and wake up our friends in the Midsouth and Midwest before it happens, and not afterward,” he continued.
ProtectingAmerica.org was formed in 2005 with major funding from Allstate after insurers sustained major hurricane losses. The group’s announced aim is to improve the way the nation prepares for and protects against catastrophes. It also lobbies for legislation on the state and federal levels that would establish a financial backstop for insurers.
The group reports it has more than 150 member organizations, including emergency management officials, first responders, disaster relief experts, large and small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and insurers.