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Monday, November 21, 2011
Oklahoma City – At the behest of Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak, executives from the California Earthquake Authority met today with officials from the Oklahoma Insurance Department and media experts at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
Doak arranged the meetings in the wake of a state-record 5.6-magnitude earthquake that shook central Oklahoma on Nov. 4, damaging hundreds of homes particularly in Lincoln County near the towns of Prague and Meeker. The commissioner said he turned to those with the most expertise in the field as Oklahoma wrestles with its response to a new type of catastrophe and its statewide preparation for future seismic activity.
“Oklahomans are accustomed to dealing with all sorts of catastrophes, from tornadoes and hailstorms to wildfires and blizzards, but earthquake response is new to us,” Doak said. “The California Earthquake Authority has 15 years of history in providing insurance to homeowners and educating the public about earthquake preparedness. As Oklahomans come to grips with the fact that damaging earthquakes are now a reality in our state, it’s wise to seek advice from experts in a state where earthquakes are more common. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel.”
Four officials from the California Earthquake Authority (CEA) were in Oklahoma for today’s meetings, while four others joined via conference call for a morning discussion with Oklahoma Insurance Department personnel. The West Coast contingent was led by California Earthquake Authority CEO Glenn Pomeroy.
“As a former elected insurance commissioner myself, you’re out front (on the earthquake issue), which is exactly where you’re supposed to be,” Pomeroy told Doak during a morning session at OID’s Oklahoma City headquarters.
Pomeroy was previously the elected insurance commissioner of North Dakota.
“I applaud Oklahoma’s leadership for exploring steps to better inform, insure and prepare the state’s citizens for future earthquakes,” Pomeroy said later in the day.
The CEA first became involved in Oklahoma’s earthquake response just a few days after the damaging event. OID personnel contacted the CEA, which sent a journalistic team to interview Oklahoma quake victims and shoot video at their damaged homes, to document the catastrophe and illustrate future earthquake awareness efforts in Oklahoma.
Pomeroy accompanied that team on its whirlwind visit to the Sooner State.
“I spent a day in Oklahoma last week and spoke with several families who were affected by the earthquakes, some who were insured and some who were not,” Pomeroy said. “Their stories touched my heart and I was moved to see the ‘Oklahoma Standard’ in action as communities pulled together and came to their neighbors’ aid. I’m very proud to be here, and pleased that Commissioner Doak and the Oklahoma Insurance Department have asked us to work with them on ideas to improve Oklahoma’s earthquake readiness.”
During Monday morning’s session at the OID offices, Pomeroy, CEA General Counsel Danny Marshall and the Authority’s CFO Tim Richison detailed how their agency came into being, and how it operates today. The CEA is a privately funded nonprofit insurance company, launched in the wake of the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake – a $15 billion disaster that saw insurers pay out more in claims from a few seconds of shaking than they had collected in premiums over the previous 50 years.
The CEA also has funded research that produced a technical manual, “General Guidelines for the Assessment and Repair of Earthquake Damage in Residential Wood Structures.”
Monday afternoon’s session on the OU campus in Norman saw CEA and OID officials discussing how best to deliver the earthquake insurance and preparedness messages with Scott Hodgson, professor and Broadcasting and Media Arts Sequence Head in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communications. While teaching at Southern Illinois University, Hodgson produced an Emmy-winning earthquake awareness campaign.
Based on CEA-funded research, Nance said consumers need to be told not only what they should do to prepare for earthquakes – whether that be purchasing insurance, mitigating risk by securing their property or developing family survival kits and emergency plans – they also need to be told why each of those actions is vital.
“People believe they’re safe. People think this won’t happen to them,” Nance said. “As a result, they don’t hear the message we’re sending.”
Doak, who participated in both the Oklahoma City and Norman sessions, said that by working together, Oklahoma, California and other states affected by damaging earthquakes can develop strategies that can be adapted to serve different populations throughout the country. Officials from both California and Oklahoma noted that a 6.0-magnitude earthquake caused considerable damage this summer in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic, another region quite unaccustomed to such catastrophes.
“We now know that Oklahoma isn’t immune to damaging earthquakes,” Doak said. “We don’t know when the next one will be, but we know that it can happen.
“Consulting with the California Earthquake Authority can help Oklahoma better prepare for future earthquakes, and cooperation between states can also lead to legislation and other initiatives that improve earthquake preparedness and response nationwide.”
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About the Oklahoma Insurance Department
The Oklahoma Insurance Department, an agency of the State of Oklahoma, is responsible for the education and protection of the insurance-buying public and for oversight of the insurance industry in the state.