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The following is an interview with Seth Stein, author of Disaster Deferred: How New Science is Changing Our View of Earthquake Hazards in the Midwest.

Q: What’s wrong with the stories we hear about the 1811 and 1812 New Madrid earthquakes?

Seth Stein: A lot of what you hear is hype. For example, you hear that these were the biggest earthquakes that ever hit the U.S. In fact there are about 15 earthquakes of the same magnitude somewhere in the world every year. Similarly, the story that they rang church bells in Boston isn’t true. Actually, there’s no record that anyone in Boston felt them. There’s also the story that the Indian chief Tecumseh predicted them. Actually, after the earthquakes he told his followers that they proved that the Great Spirit was on the Indians’ side.

Q: The government says that earthquakes will again happen in the Midwest and cause a huge natural disaster unless we start preparing now. Why do you disagree?

S.S.: Twenty years ago every geologist thought that. We knew there had been big earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, and geological studies showed that there had been earthquakes in about 1450 and 900 AD. So it looked like earthquakes happen about every 500 years. We couldn’t test that idea until about 1990, when the Global Positioning System–GPS–came along. That let us put markers in the ground and measure the position of the Midwestern fault lines using a fancier version of the GPS systems used in cars and cell phones. Geologists started making measurements near faults all around the world where there was a history of earthquakes. They discovered you could measure the ground moving as it stored up energy for a future earthquake. To our surprise, measurements at the New Madrid earthquake zone showed that the ground wasn’t moving. We concluded there is no sign that a big Midwestern earthquake is on the way.

Q: Don’t the small earthquakes happening in the Midwest today prove that a huge one is coming? S.S.: Our results show that most of those small earthquakes are aftershocks of the big earthquakes from 200 years ago. It makes sense because they happen on the faults we think moved 200 years ago.

Q: How can it be that the New Madrid fault is no longer active?

S.S.: The idea that faults can turn on and off seems surprising, but it’s catching on quickly for a couple of reasons.

First, it explains a lot of the puzzles about New Madrid. We know that the faults at New Madrid are hundreds of millions of years old, but throughout their history they haven’t moved most of the time. If faults move a lot they make topography like mountains, and the Midwest is some of the flattest land in the country. It didn’t square with what we see.

Second, once geologists started looking, we realized that faults within other continents–China, Europe, and Australia–also switch on and off.

Q: Knowing this, how can the government claim that the Midwest is in as much earthquake danger as California?

S.S.: That conclusion made sense with what we knew 20 years ago, but we know so much more now. Now it looks like the danger of earthquakes in the Midwest is about 1/10th that of California’s. Of course, we’ll keep studying the area, but from what we know there is no point rushing into expensive California-level preparations. More modest preparations would cost less and let resources be used other ways that do more good.

Q: Even if the risk is much less than the government says, doesn’t it make sense to prepare

S.S.: Remember President Reagan’s line that the scariest phrase in the English language is “we’re from the government and we’re here to help.” The problem is that the preparations the government wants communities and business to take are very expensive. Bringing one hospital in Memphis up to California standards cost about 100 million dollars. Bringing all the buildings in the area up to this standard would take billions of dollars. Spending that money on other social needs would do a lot more good. Similarly, requiring businesses to spend money this way is a huge tax with little benefit. It’s likely that many buildings in California will be seriously shaken by an earthquake during their lives, while a building in the Midwest is very unlikely to be.

Q: So, what’s your overall advice about Midwest earthquakes?

S.S.: We should keep learning more about them, but don’t need to rush into expensive precautions. The government is pushing communities to spend money that can be better utilized elsewhere for greater social good. As the old joke goes, “do you want it right or do you want it now?”

Fire Safety Statistics

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Deaths from fires and burns are the fifth most common cause of unintentional injury deaths in the United States (CDC 2005) and the third leading cause of fatal home injury (Runyan 2004). The United States mortality rate from fires ranks fourth among the 25 developed countries for which statistics are available (USFA 2007).

Although the number of fatalities and injuries caused by residential fires has declined gradually over the past several decades, many residential fire-related deaths remain preventable and continue to pose a significant public health problem.

U.S. Residential Fire Loss: 1997-2006

The residential structure fire problem represented approximately 81 percent of all fire deaths and 79 percent of the injuries to civilians in 2006. Between 1997 and 2006, an average of 3,090 civilians lost their lives and another 15,340 were injured annually as the result of residential structure fires.

Residential structures include one- and two-family dwellings (including manufactured homes), apartments, hotels, motels, college dormitories, boarding houses, etc.

The following table shows the number of fires, deaths, injuries and dollar loss that occurred in residential structures from 1997 to 2006.

Residential Structures

Year Fires Deaths Injuries Direct Dollar Loss In Millions
1997 406,500 3,390 17,775 $4,585
1998 381,500 3,250 17,175 $4,391
1999 383,000 2,920 16,425 $5,092
2000 379,500 3,140 15,575 $5,674
2001 396,500 3,140 15,575 $5,643
2002 401,000 2,659 14,050 $6,055
2003 402,000 3,165 14,075 $6,074
2004 410,500 3,225 14,175 $5,948
2005 396,000 3,055 13,825 $6,875
2006 412,500 2,620 12,925 $6,990

Source: National Fire Protection Association Fire Loss in the U.S. During 2006

Occurrence and Consequences

  • On average in the United States in 2006, someone died in a fire about every 162 minutes, and someone was injured every 32 minutes (Karter 2007).
  • Four out of five U.S. fire deaths in 2006 occurred in homes (Karter 2007).
  • In 2006, fire departments responded to 412,500 home fires in the United States, which claimed the lives of 2,620 people (not including firefighters) and injured another 12,925, not including firefighters (Karter 2007).
  • Most victims of fires die from smoke inhalation and not from burns (Hall 2002).
  • Fires started by lighted tobacco products, principally cigarettes, constitute the leading cause of residential fire deaths. (USFA 2006)
  • Cooking equipment, most often a range or stovetop, is the leading cause of reported home fires and home fire injuries in the United States. (USFA 2007).


In 2006, residential fires caused nearly $7 billion in property damage (Karter 2007).

Fire and burn injuries represent 1% of the incidence of injuries and 2% of the total costs of injuries, or $7.5 billion each year (Finkelstein et al. 2006).

  • Males account for $4.8 billion (64%) of the total costs of fire/burn injuries.
  • Females account for $2.7 billion (36%) of the total costs of fire/burn injuries.
  • Fatal fire and burn injuries cost $3 billion, representing 2% of the total costs of all fatal injuries.
  • Hospitalized fire and burn injuries total $1 billion, or 1% of the total cost of all hospitalized injuries.
  • Non-hospitalized fire and burn injuries cost $3 billion, or 2% of the total cost of all non-hospitalized injuries.

Groups at Risk

Groups at increased risk of fire-related injuries and deaths include:

  • People in the Southeast (USFA 2007)
  • Males (USFA 2007)
  • Children 4 and under (USFA 2007)
  • Older adults ages 60 and older (USFA 2007)
  • African-Americans (USFA 2007)
  • American-Indians (USFA 2007)
  • Rural communities with populations under 2,500 (USFA 2007)
  • The poorest Americans (Istre 2001)
  • Persons living in manufactured homes or substandard housing (Hall 2005)

Risk Factors

  • 43 percent of home fire deaths occur in homes without smoke alarms (Ahrens 2007).
  • Most residential fires occur during the winter months (USFA 2001).
  • Alcohol use contributes to an estimated 40% of residential fire deaths (USFA 2003).


Contractor Alert ! ! !

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We are seeing a disturbing pattern recently of  contractors trying to pass themselves off as Public Adjusters.

They are misrepresenting themselves to our adjusters saying they have the right and authority to negotiate the claim for our insured.

This practice is illegal because they are trying to function as a Public Adjuster when they are not licensed with the State of Missouri as a Public Adjuster.

These types of contractors unnecessarily delay and confuse the claims process for insureds.

Our recommendation is to steer clear of these ‘bullies‘ that typically use strong arm tactics and outright lies to get what they want.

Another thing you will want to do is to check out the contractor at the Better Business Bureau in Saint Louis or Springfield or another one near you.  The downturn in the economy has really brought out the sharks and you have to be on your guard.


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If you’re in business, complaints are a fact of life. No matter what you do, sooner or later, someone will disagree with the way you handle something. And, in insurance, there are more than a few complaints.

In fact, in Missouri last year, there were over 1,600 complaints by the public against (other) homeowners insurance companies alone. Meramec Valley is pleased that there were O reports in 2009 filed against us with the Missouri Department of Insurance.

Homeowner FAQs

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Homeowner FAQs

Q: What can I do to lower the cost of my homeowners insurance?

A: There are several things you can do to lower the cost of your homeowners insurance. The key is to do it in a way that does not harm you at the time of loss. The first real step is to get a comprehensive review by a competent, professional insurance agent who will assess your specific insurance needs.

Prices among different insurers insuring the same property will many times vary by hundreds of dollars. So, when you are shopping, make sure you are getting a fair comparison on the same coverages.

Some immediate ways to lower your costs are to assume more of the risk yourself. You can save money by

  • Increasing your deductible, thereby taking on more of the risk and cost of each claim.

Find discounts that apply to you that you may not be getting such as

  • Senior Discounts,
  • Vocational Discounts,
  • Smoke Alarm Discounts,
  • DeadBolt Lock Discounts, etc.
  • Each company offers slightly different sets of discounts, so ask your agent to look these up for you.

Q: What does homeowners insurance cover?

A: It depends. A typical homeowners policy has two main sections:

Section I covers the physical property of the insured. There will typically be four or more sections listed that will outline the amount of coverage for:

A. Your Dwelling–This is the maximum amount the insurance company is obliged to pay to you in the event of a total loss.

B. Your Other Structures–This is the maximum amount the insurance company is obligated to pay for other structures on your property such as detached garages, well houses, sheds, etc. Be careful, though because a commercial structure or farm structure will not typically fall under this coverage. Ask your agent for more details.

C. Your Personal Property–This also is the maximum payable for all of your personal property. There are limitations on property like jewelry and guns, so read the fine print. If you’re a collector and your collection is important to you, you’ll want to make sure it’s covered. Never assume.

D. Additional Living Expense–If your home burns down or blows away, you’re going to need a place to stay. That’s where this coverage comes in handy. Actually, it’s more than ‘handy’ because while your property is being replaced or repaired you still have to make that mortgage payment AND you’ll have to rent somewhere to stay. So unless you have a lot of cash handy, you will really like what this coverage will do for you.

Other coverages are for Farm Related Buildings and Property. If you have any of this type of property, see your agent.

Section II provides personal liability coverage for the insured.

Liability Protection typically offers at least two levels of coverage.

Medical Payments coverage is usually sold in increments of $1,000 $2,000 $5,000 or more. This is coverage for people (other than you or the residents of your household) that are hurt on your property. It’s considered ‘good will’ coverage in that if a small claim can be paid quickly, a more contentious and expensive claim can be avoided in the future.

Liability Protection is sold in amounts like $100,000, $300,000 and more. This is in the event you are sued as a homeowner, but there are limitations. Again, a qualified and competent insurance agent can counsel you on what is and is not typically covered.

Q: What is the difference between “actual cash value” and “replacement cost”?

A: Covered losses under a homeowners policy can be paid on either an actual cash value basis or on a replacement cost basis.

When “actual cash value” is used, the policy owner is entitled to the depreciated value of the damaged property. For instance, a roof typically lasts about 20 years. If your 10-year-old roof is damaged and must be replaced, you will only be reimbursed about half (less your deductible) of the cost of replacing the roof. Everything has an expected life and as such these will be used to determine how much you will be reimbursed.

Under the “replacement cost” coverage, the policy owner is reimbursed an amount necessary to replace the article with one of similar type and quality at current prices. In many situations, you will be immediately given the ‘actual cash value’ of the loss and once you replace the item you will be reimbursed the difference.

Even in the best of replacement cost policies, there are some household items that will always be paid at ‘actual cash value’, so talk with your agent about these specific items.

Q: What should I consider when purchasing homeowners insurance?

A: Here are some things you should consider when you purchase homeowners insurance:

1. The Company–Visit the Missouri Department of Insurance at and check out the company in which you are interested in placing your insurance. This lists by the COMPANY and not the agency.

For instance, a search by company in June 2010 revealed the following number of complaints by consumers against insurance companies:

  • State Farm – 263
  • American Family – 144
  • Safeco – 34
  • Allied – 15
  • Meramec Valley Mutual Insurance Company – 0

2. The Agency – Is the agency experienced? Does it have a competent staff to handle your questions?  Does the staff hold any certifications which indicate a commitment to their service to you? Do they take the time to help you or merely rush you through the process and out the door?  These are all legitimate questions you should consider because these will be the same people who will be there when you experience a loss.

3. The Amount of Insurance – Make sure that you have enough money to replace what you’ve lost. it’s really that simple. Cutting the amount of insurance on your home is never a good idea because when it’s laying in a pile of ashes and you need to rebuild your life you do not want to have to have problems with cash flow.

4. Other Coverages – Optional coverages like Earthquake, Flood, Replacement Cost, Jewelry and Gun Riders, and others are all important. An indepth assessment of your insurance needs will reveal these needs.

Q: What am I covered against in the standard homeowners policy?

A: There are basically two ways to insure any dwelling or other property.

1. The dwelling/property is insured against ALL direct losses to the house WITH CERTAIN NAMED EXCEPTIONS (which the policy then names), or

2. The dwelling/property is insured ONLY against certain named ‘perils’ like fire, wind, hail, etc.  The policy then goes on to name those specific things or events for which you are covered. If it’s not on that list, you are not covered.

That’s it.

Now, the details get more involved, but these are the two ways to look at the policy you buy. The first is usually the best and most comprehensive way to cover your property if possible.

No matter what policy you buy from whichever company you must realize that everything is not covered. No company will do that. The premium charged for that coverage would not affordable. Take time to read through your policy. They are all written on a grammar school level so everyone will be able to understand. You just have to take the time and responsibility to understand it for yourself. If there is something you do not understand, call your agent. That’s what they get paid to do.

Q: Where and when is my personal property covered?

A: Personal property (except property that is specifically excluded) is covered anywhere in the world. For example, suppose that while traveling, you purchased a dresser and you want to ship it home. Your homeowners policy would provide coverage for the named perils while the dresser is in transit, even though the dresser has never been in your home before.

Q: Do I need earthquake coverage, and how can I get it?

A: The standard insurance policy does not pay for direct damages caused by earth movement. “Earth movement” is a much broader term than “earthquake”. It includes earthquakes, volcanic activity, and other earth movement. This coverage may be available by endorsement for an additional charge. If you live in an area that is more likely to have an earthquake, you’ll pay more than if you live in an area that is unlikely to have one. We can help you weigh the costs and benefits of this coverage before you decide to purchase.


Please understand that nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice or as an absolute statement of what is and is not covered under any particular insurance policy. As always, it is your responsibility to seek competent counsel from qualified advisors regarding your specific insurance circumstances and needs.

List and catalogue your personal possessions

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Go here to get a PDF form to list your household inventory.  Another good idea is to take pictures or video of each room and its contents as well.

This not only provides a record of your personal possessions, it serves as a reminder when you fill out claim paperwork. At that time you will be asked to list:

  • The item with description
  • When it was purchased
  • The original cost
  • The cost to replace it now

You’ll see how a quick inventory now could save you time and potentially thousands of dollars in the event of a claim.