How the CEA Defines Aftershocks, or Doesn’t

Simply put aftershocks are earthquakes after an initial earthquake. However the definition is not perfectly clear on the California Earthquake Authority Policy. The when, where, how, etc may be key to your earthquake insurance policy and any possible protection you may [or may not] receive. It is important for you to understand the concept of an aftershock as it relates to your CEA Earthquake Insurance Policy.

  • Is the term aftershock defined in a CEA policy?
  • Where is the best place to look for the closets thing to a definition in an CEA form.
  • Considerations not noted in the definition of an Aftershock on a CEA policy.

Of note here is that our discussion revolves around the CEA “Basic Earthquake Policy” sample, the so called “Homeowners Choice” version “BEQ-3C (01-2019 edition)” – your policy or edition may vary slightly or signficantly. Not all EQ insurance policies are the same, please read your own.

Who is the CEA? The CEA is the California Earthquake Authority and they are the insurer who partners with numerous home insurers in California to provide earthquake protection to numerous households. Their “mini” earthquake policy form assists in setting the standards for how other insurers provide coverage. The CEA is based in Sacramento, California.

Aftershocks as Laid Out in the California Earthquake Authority Sample Policy:

According to the CEA sample policy, an Aftershock is not defined, but a Seimic Event is. The definition of an aftershock then could be thought as being part of the definition of a Seimic Event.

It is my believe that the CEA policy treats an Aftershock as essentially an earthquake[s] that happens “within a 360-hour period” after “the initial earthquake.” That is believed to mean that after the initial quake, for the next 360 hours, other earthquakes would be considered aftershocks. Being that there are 24 hours in a day, that would limit the aftershock period to 15 days [360 divided by 24.] But there is not really a specific definition to the term aftershock in the policiy. It is simply a part of the definition of a Seimic Event.

Some definitions of aftershocks can be signficantly different and intensly more complex. They are often of much longer time frames. The definition from the book Physical Geology, by Steven Earle “An aftershock is an earthquake just like any other, but it is one that can be shown to have been triggered by stress transfer from a preceding earthquake.” However it goes on to the note the following: “Aftershocks can be of any magnitude. Most are smaller than the earthquake that triggered them, but they can be bigger.” The CEA policy does not seem to mention stress transfers in its definition of seimic events.

The USGS states that aftershocks can happen for “a period of weeks, months, or years.” But that is NOT the aftershock time period of a CEA Earthquake Insurance Policy. Aftershocks [or seimic events] are defined as lasting for a mere 15 days following the “initial” event.

The best explaination of how they consider an aftershock is located on page Seven, Point 22 under the heading: “Definitions”, subheading: “Seimic Event.” In other words the best definition of aftershock is located within the definition of a Seimic Event.

This is the definition of a Seimic Event:

“Seismic event” means one or more earthquakes that occur within a 360-hour period. The seismic event commences upon the initial earthquake, and all earthquakes or aftershocks that occur within the 360 hours immediately following the initial earthquake are considered for purposes of this policy to be part of the same seismic event.”

CEA “Basic Earthquake Policy

Please note that this definition of course is subject to the terms, conditions, and other policy and contractual attributes of the coverage form and all other documents.

It should be noted that the following are NOT mentioned in the CEA definition of seimic events or aftershocks.

  • Location
  • Quake severity
  • What exactly happens in the 361st hour
  • The exact definition of an aftershock.

In regards to the second to last point here – what happens during the 361st hour in regards to any further aftershocks leads one to believe that its possible that after the 360th hour the definition of an an ‘event’ has expired and a new seismic event would begin? Or not?

Why Does the Definition of an Aftershock and Seimic Event Matter for your Earthquake Policy:

There are likely several reasons why the definitions of an aftershock and Seimic Event matter. The first involves the actual seimic event. If a covered structure is damaged by an earthquake and then further damaged more from the aftershocks, as defined by the policy, than this would lead us to believe that the insurer will count this as one single event. One series of deductibles would likely be involved, one potential loss of use, etc.

Another reason is that of coverage timeline. Is your property covered by the damage done to it from an aftershock when the original seimic event happened before the initiation of the policy? This seems to be a significant question. My read of this seems to indicate that with the 01-2019 edition CEA basic policy that for the first 15 days of the policy it is potentially only providing you new event seimic coverage and NOT coverage from any aftershocks. This is a signficant reason, in my opinion to not leave any gaps between an old and new EQ policy.

Does the oppossite timeline version also bring coverage even though the policiy is no longer in force? Would a policy that has lapsed, let us say for non payment, which was damaged solely during the aftershock be covered when the original seimic event started during the coverage period? [I will just ignore the part of the story about how you even know when the damage was done for many of these claims between the initial shock and the aftershock.]

Possibly another good reason to be aware of this is that if the initial earthquake was caused by an Excluded event that would mean that the aftershocks would likely be excluded as well.

There are other considerations as well.

The summation of why you should understand a Seismic Event with your CEA policy is not to have any gaps of coverage and to be aware of the potentially limited coverage during the first 15 days on new policy inception.

Why Definitions are so Important with EQ Insurance:

It is not uncommon to speak with consumers that have no idea how home insurance works, but believe that they fully understand EQ insurance. This Blog has discussed on numerous occassions why understanding the difference between an Earthquake and.. other land movement is so important. What the exclusions are, and they are so important. Quake insurance is frankly, not a simple form of insurance. As we have reviewed just the simple definition of an aftershock and a seimic event could have a meaningful impact on one’s coverage. The definintion of an earthquake insurance is equally important.

When the big one does come the lawyers are going to go throgh the policy, in some instances, with a fine tooth comb. Isn’t it worth it to review it and consider multiple angles before you buy?

Aftershocks, Definitions, and Earthquake Insurance:

The definition of an aftershock on an earthquake policy is not perfectly clear. It does not seem to conincide with the definition in some science books and it is imperative to understand the difference. How an aftershock is [or is not] covered could be very importance in the event of a claim. Not all earthquake policies have the same definition nor the same length of time of a covered seimic event. Read your policy. Ask your Agent.