Commission Grantee Global Earthquake Model Foundation (GEM)

Key Learnings from “Back to Normal” Research

The Back to Normal research and model funded by the Commission and produced by GEM and UCLA was described in an earlier Post. Here we review some of the key findings, based on a study of the 2014 South Napa earthquake. The Back to Normal study looked at what factors influenced recovery from earthquake damage. GEM listed eight key variables that influence rapid and effective recovery: These variables are listed below in order of importance, with the level of damage being the most significant factor.

  1. Level (or amount) of building damage
    b. Homeownership
    c. Percentage of households that have a male householder
    d. Presence of health insurance coverage
    e. Employment status
    f. Percentage of households that have any type of available income
    g. Percentage of buildings constructed after 1950 (a result of updated building codes; consequently, these structures suffer less damage during an earthquake)
  2. Percentage of English-speaking households

The percentage of homes insured for earthquake was low in Napa and, therefore, not a factor in this scenario, but access to financial resources clearly impacts recovery.

Based on their findings, the GEM team created several recommendations, many of them aimed at future research and improving the accuracy and effectiveness of the modeling effort. But some were specifically targeted at how to improve the recovery effort and speed the return to normal. On page 12 of the 85-page report, they recommend the following:

  1. “Facilitate access to assistance for vulnerable groups of the population, such as residents that do not speak English.
  2. Conduct further investigations into the relationships between the variables that correlate most positively with recovery (e.g., homeownership and health insurance) to determine the underlying causes.
  3. Conduct more extensive research on cost-benefit analysis of retrofitting buildings because the buildings not seismically designed in the city of Napa sustained significantly more damage compared to stronger structures.
  4. Improve access to financial mechanisms, such as earthquake insurance, to residents exposed to high earthquake risk, as well as investigate and promote alternative post-earthquake resources, such as grants, which will support residents in the rebuilding process.”

Many people do not realize that the typical homeowner’s policy does not cover earthquake loss. The California Earthquake Authority (CEA) is a not-for-profit organization that provides residential earthquake insurance for Californians, and the report recommends more people take advantage of their programs and policies.