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READY FOR THE NEXT BIG QUAKE?

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The earthquake that devastated the San Francisco Bay area this week ought to prompt homeowners all over the country to take a new look at the advisability of getting earthquake insurance.

That goes especially for Utahns living along the quake-prone Wasatch Front, where experts warn that a quake as big as the one in California could kill 2,000 people, injure 9,000, and leave 23,000 homeless.One reason the damage would be greater in Utah is that many buildings here are not engineered to resist earthquakes as they are in California. Sadly, private homes in particular are rarely designed to withstand even a minor earthquake. Yet it is not difficult or costly to design or build such a house.

Though earthquake insurance - or flood insurance, for that matter - is not offered as part of a typical home insurance policy, it can be purchased separately.

But few homeowners do so. Even in California, only about one in five homeowners has earthquake insurance. Why? Because of its high cost. Typically, it costs about $150 year for the first $100,000 of earthquake insurance. Each additional $100,000 in coverage costs about $120 annually. Those figures look even steeper to Californians than they do to Utahns because a home selling for, say, $150,000 in Salt Lake City could easily cost $400,000 or more in the San Francisco Bay area.

Even so, the premium rates for earthquake insurance must now look like a bargain in a state where losses from this week's quake, the second largest in American history, are expected to reach into the billions of dollars.

No one knows when the next big earthquake will come or where it will strike. But, sooner or later, another major disaster can be considered a certainty. This prospect should prompt Americans to keep reviewing and improving both their individual and collective emergency plans. Part of that review should include a look at one's insurance coverage.