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What’s shakin’? Quake insurance!

By Jay MacDonald ·
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Posted: 2 pm ET

Let me offer a little advice: Should circumstances find you in a pub in Oklahoma, do not approach the bar collective with the greeting, "What's shakin'?"

On Tuesday morning, residents there were awakened by a magnitude 4.2 earthquake centered just outside of Guthrie, about 24 miles north of the capital. No injuries were reported.

Tuesday's tremor was just the latest indication that the Sooner State has sprouted a serious case of the shakes of late, with the U.S. Geological Survey registering more than 500 quakes greater than 3.0 magnitude so far this year, 150 in one week alone. That's a startling uptick from the annual average of 40 or so just two years ago and downright scary compared to the years 1975-2008, when Oklahomans could expect one to three quakes per year.

Higher risk in half the US

In fact, shaking in previously unshaken places prompted the USGS to update its national seismic hazard map last month for the first time since 2008. In doing so, the quake experts dialed up the earthquake risk for roughly half the country, while downgrading the risk for about a quarter of the U.S.

Parts of these seven states moved up slightly into the top two earthquake hazard zones:

  • Colorado
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

Parts of these 16 states moved up or remain in the highest earthquake risk category:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wyoming


San Francisco earthquake damage, 1989. © Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS

More monitoring

Earlier this year, the USGS installed 20 seismic stations in central Virginia and launched a study to find out what's shaking and why in the eastern half of the country. More than 450 aftershocks have been recorded in Virginia since a magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit near the community of Mineral three years ago. That was the quake that wound up damaging the Washington Monument.

The Oklahoma shakes, which scientists suspect may be the result of increased shale "fracking" in the oil-rich state, prompted Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak to recommend earthquake insurance in addition to home insurance for Sooner homeowners. The good news is, the coverage is dirt-cheap there -- at least so far.

It will be interesting to see whether the new USGS maps prompt similar recommendations in other states new to quakes.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus

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Veteran contributing editor Jay MacDonald is co-author of "Future Millionaires' Guidebook."

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