National Geographic : 1990 May
shoulders to the dolly. P-u-s -h! It rode over a post that had thrust up through the flooring. We stopped for breath with the refrigerator blocking the doorway, the only usable exit. Don't collapse now, house .... Another caller: Mark Sawyer, the insurance adjuster. A quick glance around, and he started writing a check. "This will give them a sense of assurance." He looked around to see that the Petersons were out of earshot: "This house is the worst I've seen, by far." Outside, Mr. Peterson gestured. "Up there on the ridge-that's where I'm thinking of rebuilding. We had a geologist out, and he found good rock. This time we'll bolt down." Insurance... good rock... bolting down the house: These are buzzwords in post-quake California. . NCE NOTORIOUSLY UNINTERESTED in earthquake insurance, Califor nians have changed their ways. "Policy purchases have skyrock eted in the past 15 years," said Risa Palm of the University of Colorado in Boulder. In a study of four California counties completed a year ago, she found that about 30 percent of homeowners were insured. Since 1985, state law has required insurance companies to offer quake coverage with home owner policies-by certified mail to assure receipt. Dr. Palm credits this with part of the increased sales. Who buys quake insurance? Not necessarily those who live near known faults or on unsafe soils. "The buyers," said Dr. Palm, "are those with the greatest earthquake aware ness- people who perceive the risk." Californians in increasing numbers are investing in another form of house insurance: simple structural reinforcement. "A home owner can bolt the home to its foundations and strengthen the crawl space with plywood for about $500," said Peter Yanev of EQE, Inc., the nation's largest earthquake engineering firm. "A contractor will do it for $2,500." Like insurance and reinforcement, the value of living on bedrock came home on Octo ber 17. "The safest place you can be," remarked Robert Brown of the USGS, "is on level ground that is bedrock. Unfortunately, California doesn't have enough of either." Can Californians learn what lies beneath their dwellings? "The word has been out for a long time," said the Survey's Roger Borcherdt. In 1975 Touring in a limousine, a Japanese TV crew films a geologist studying a crack near the epicenter in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Landslides closed nearby Route 17for weeks. Although fissures abounded, none represented actual surface faulting, the usual signature of so large an earthquake.