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A guide to earthquakes, from fault lines to seismographs to damage estimations -- here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Earthquakes.

What are earthquakes?
An earthquake is caused by a sudden slip on a fault and it occurs when plates grind and scrape against each other. Stresses in the earth's outer layer push the sides of the fault together. Stress builds up and the rocks slip suddenly, releasing energy in waves that travel through the rock to cause the shaking that we feel during an earthquake.

What is a fault?
A fault is a thin zone of crushed rock between two blocks of rock, and can be any length, from centimeters to thousands of kilometers. It is a fracture in the crust of the earth along which rocks on one side have moved relative to those on the other side. Most faults are the result of repeated displacements over a long period of time.

What are the basic types of earthquakes?
The two basic types: A strike-slip and a dip-slip.
A strike-slip earthquake occurs on an approximately vertical fault plane as the rock on one side of the fault slides horizontally past the other. In a dip-slip earthquake, the fault is at an angle to the surface of the earth and the movement of the rock is up or down.

Are earthquakes really on the increase?
Not necessarily. Earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant throughout this century and according to records have actually seemed to decrease in recent years. In the last 20 years more earthquakes are noticed yearly because of the increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and improved global communications. This increase has helped seismological centers to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years.

What is the hypocenter?
The hypocenter is the point where the earthquake rupture begins, usually deep down on the fault.

What is the epicenter?
The epicenter is the point on the surface directly above the hypocenter.

How many earthquakes are reported yearly?
The National Earthquake Information Center now locates about 12,000 to 14,000 earthquakes worldwide each year, or 35 a day on average.

Earthquake frequency worldwide:



Annual Average

 > Great

8 or higher


 > Major

7 - 7.9


 > Strong

6 - 6.9


 > Moderate

5 - 5.9


 > Light

4 - 4.9


 > Minor

3 - 3.9


 > Very Minor

1 - 3

9,000 (daily)


What is the Richter Scale?
The Richter Scale is used to measure the magnitude of earthquakes, as determined by seismograph measurements of the height of ground oscillations during an earthquake.
Because the scale is based on a logarithm, every whole-number step in the scale represents about 31 times more energy than the amount represented by the preceding whole number value. The Richter scale has no upper limit; the largest known earthquakes have magnitudes in the 8.8 to 8.9 range.

How can I prepare for an earthquake?
Fasten shelves securely to walls. Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves. Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low, closed cabinets with latches. Hang heavy items such as pictures and mirrors away from beds, couches, and anywhere people sit. Brace overhead light fixtures. Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections -these are potential fire risks. Secure a water heater by strapping it to the wall studs and bolting it to the floor. Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects. Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products securely in closed cabinets with latches and on bottom shelves.

Damage of recent major earthquakes in the U.S.:
Northridge Earthquake, California (20 miles from Los Angeles) January 17, 1994 at 4:31 a.m. Magnitude: 6.7   Deaths: 57   Injuries: 9,000   Property Damage: $15 billion

Loma Prieta Earthquake, California (south of San Francisco) October 17, 1989 at 5:04 p.m. Magnitude: 7.1   Deaths: 62   Injuries: 3,757   Property Damage: More than $6 billion


Sources: U.S. Geological Survey, National Earthquake Information Center,
Federal Emergency Management Agency


What is Earthquake Insurance?
Earthquake insurance is an insurance policy that provides coverage against damages you suffer that result from earth movement (a.k.a. an earthquake).
Why do I need Earthquake Insurance?
California is one of the most seismically active areas in the world and earthquakes are a real threat to you and your property. The typical Homeowners Association policy does not cover earthquake damage. You need it to protect yourself in case of an earthquake.

What is a “Difference in Conditions” Policy?
Difference in Conditions (DIC) policy is a broader form of coverage which fills in the gaps left by commercial property insurance. For example, your commercial property insurance most likely does not cover a loss from earth movement (a.k.a. an earthquake). Rest assured the earthquake policies we write at Steve Reich Insurance includes DIC.



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