Dealing with the Aftermath of an Earthquake


Your first step in cleanup after an earthquake is to smell the air for the odor of gas. If the smell of gas is coming from your home, you must turn off the gas at the main. If you do not smell gas coming from your home, leave your gas main alone. You will not want to disrupt heating or cooking with gas, unnecessarily.

Look at your water meter. If it is showing water usage, you may have a leak. If the leak is inaccessible, fill up as many containers as possible with water, and then shut off the main. Contamination of tap water can happen as quickly as 15 minutes after a major Earthquake. If you are able to fill several buckets of water, you will be able to use this later for cleaning, cooking, and bathing.

Determine if it is safe to re-enter your home. Obvious signs of non-safety are if the roof is collapsing, the foundation is groaning, or structural walls are damaged. As you enter your home, the things you will need to obtain are your homeowner’s insurance policy, a camera, an operational flashlight, and your cell phone. If the Earthquake was large, household damage is obvious, and you are expecting aftershocks, you may want to grab a few keepsakes, photo albums, personal phone book, and whatever items you may regret not saving.

With your camera, walk around the outside of your home and take pictures of all visible and suspect damage. Walk around all decks, tool sheds, barns, and any other additions on your property record with photos, any damage. Take pictures of everything. A video camera might also be helpful. Many digital cameras and cell phones now record video, but the low quality might make it less useful. Take as many photos as you can. You can never take too many. Include a ruler, yardstick or tape measure to document dimensions in the photograph.

Call your insurance company. If you have lost your policy documents request a copy of our insurance policy, endorsements and declaration page from your insurance company. The California Homeowners Bill of Rights entitles you a copy of our policy and declarations page. If you rent your property, contact your landlord and your contents insurance company as soon as possible.

If an insurance company representative calls you for a recorded statement over the phone, here are a few tips for this situation:

  • If the adjuster insists upon completing a recorded statement, ask the adjuster to simply give you a  copy of the questions they are reading and say you will submit written answers to any coverage or agent questions.
  • Be firm and polite, but protect yourself from letting your insurance company take advantage of your situation.
  • Avoid making recorded statements over the telephone. Politely request that questions be sent to  you in writing (email, fax, mail, etc.). You may need to be persistent and ask several times before  the questions are finally sent to you.
  •  You have a duty to your insurance company to describe your LOSS, not your life! You should comfortably answer questions, for instance, related to the quantities, sizes and qualities of your  house features and personal property.
  • Be cautious but not paranoid. Avoid answering “casual” questions not related to your loss, even if not recorded. The interviewer will be taking notes on your answers. You have no idea in what way your “casual” answer might influence your settlement process.
  • We recommend you politely refuse to answer any questions pertaining to the initial purchase of your insurance policy or your policy limits. All the policy information they need should be either in your policy application or obtained by your agent when you got your policy.
  • If you have already recorded a statement, send a letter or email to your adjuster requesting that a written transcript and a copy of the audiotape be sent to you within two weeks.
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About Kevin

Mayor - City of Oakley, Data Center Manager of Mainframe Operations and Optimization – USS-POSCO INDUSTRIES, Co-Founder and Board Member - Friends of Oakley A Community Foundation, Advisory Board – Opportunity Junction, Commissioner - Contra Costa Transportation Authority, Board Member - Tri Delta Transit and Transplan
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