The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) is urging Congress to create a Natural Catastrophe Commission that could establish a disaster fund, strengthen and enforce building codes, and provide community support.
A resolution calling for creation of the commission won the support of delegates to the recent winter meeting of NAIC, the Kansas City, Mo.-based trade group for state insurance officials.
Delegates to the gathering, held in San Antonio, Texas, had heard speeches warning that earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 or greater could rock the lower Midwest and the Midsouth in a replay of the three-months-long New Madrid series of quakes of 1811 and 1812.
Descriptions of the possible tremors came in presentations by representatives of ProtectingAmerica.org, a Washington-based group formed to protect homeowners from natural catastrophes.
The ProtectingAmerica.org speakers said four catastrophic earthquakes were felt in an area of more than 1 million square miles in what was then rural America. Scientists characterize the chance of a giant quake as significant in the near future, the speakers said.
According to a June 2006 report by Risk Management Solutions Inc., Newark. Calif., a magnitude 7.7 New Madrid earthquake, similar to the one in December 1811, could inflict more than $60 billion in insured losses.
Speakers who delivered that earthquake message were Robert Porter, ProtectingAmerica.org executive director; Timothy Reinhold, vice president of engineering for the Institute for Business & Home Safety; and James Dalessandro, earthquake historian, author and screenwriter.
“The area exposed to the New Madrid fault--home to millions of people and major population centers including St. Louis and Memphis,” Porter told the conference, “is just as at-risk to a major catastrophe as Florida and the Northeast are to hurricanes and the Pacific Coast is to earthquakes.”
Porter also suggested that the federal government and states create a financial reserve to back up the private insurance market.
Another speaker, Timothy A. Reinhold, vice president of engineering for the Institute for Business & Home Safety, told delegates that the kind of earthquake likely in the New Madrid area could impose tremendous lateral forces on structures.
“The key to survival is for the structure to be able to absorb the energy from the earthquake without sustaining so much damage that the structure collapses,” reinhold said. “The New Madrid area must understand its unique geography and enforce specific building code initiatives based on its individual risks.”
James Dalessandro, a ProtectingAmerica.org charter member, earthquake historian, author and documentary filmmaker of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, said that public awareness of the potential for another quake needs to increase in the central United States.
“Scientists are more concerned about a seismic event in the Midwest than they are about one in California,” said Dalessandro, “for the simple reason that Californians are infinitely more prepared.”
ProtectingAmerica.org was formed in 2005 to safeguard families, communities, consumers and the economy. The more than 150 member organizations include emergency management agencies, first responders, disaster relief experts, large and small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and insurers.
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