Skip to content

Classifying Earthquakes

April 21, 2014

Damaged brick

Did you know that not all earthquakes are the same? Many of us in the Seattle area may be aware that earthquakes happen at different depths, known as “shallow” and “deep” earthquakes (there’s a third type, intermediate, as well) and that the Richter scale reading can give a good indication of how bad the damage might be, but different types of shaking occur during a quake as well. Earthquakes and their shaking is a complicated subject, but a little background information can help deepen your understanding beyond simple Richter scale readings.

So to begin, what are the differences between earthquake depths?

Earthquakes generate two types of waves at the focus (the focus is the point in the earth where the rock broke that started the quake).

  • Body Waves: these come from the focus and spread out in all directions, including up toward the surface.
  • Surface Waves: these waves appear on the surface of the earth, above where the focus occurred. They move outward like ripples in a pond and are the ones that cause structural damage.

Body waves can be further classified into two separate categories, Primary and Secondary Waves. These travel in all directions, including up to the surface of the earth:

  • Primary Waves (P waves): these are compressional waves that shake forward and backward. To picture this, think of a slinky. If you’re holding each end (assuming you keep the middle stable) and push in with one hand, the wave that flows through the slinky to the other hand would be similar to a P wave (check out the images on slide 11 for pictures of this).
  • Secondary Waves (S waves): These are sometimes called shear waves and shake the ground in a perpendicular motion. To picture this, think of holding a rope. If you whip one end of the rope, the wave that travels to the other end would be similar to an S wave.

Once an earthquake reaches the surface, surface waves can then be felt. These waves tend to move in one of two ways:




So why is this important? The shaking of the earthquake is obviously what does the damage, but it’s not alone. Along with the building construction and height, soil types, building codes, earthquake intensity, depth, and much more, engineers, seismologists, and emergency management can utilize this information to help understand how buildings, freeways, etc., should be built and the type of damage they can expect to see after an earthquake.

As for what your insurance will cover after an earthquake, keep this in mind: a standard homeowner policy will not cover you for earthquake damage. Earthquake coverage in Washington must be purchased separately from your homeowner or business owner policy. And while it’s not cheap, neither is replacing the items that get damaged or destroyed after the shaking stops. Consult your agent if you have questions about how quake insurance works, the cost of it, and how it will cover you!


Article by: Kristen Skinner, Social Media and Marketing Services Coordinator

Understanding Rule 85 – Class-Rated Risks

April 18, 2014

BuildingRule 85 in the Washington State Commercial Lines Manual deals with class- and specifically rated risks. Class-rated risks are buildings with occupants that can be fit into a similar category due to their similar exposures to loss and probability of sustaining damage. Certain assumptions are made about buildings and occupants placed in this category. Specifically rated risks are not eligible for class rates and have unique operations, hazards, or other conditions not allowing them to be class rated. These risks also tend to be much larger and more hazardous (check out our previous posts here and here to learn more!).

Washington State recently changed our rules for how we look at class-rated and specifically rated risks. Depending on which filing your company has adopted, different rules will apply.

Let’s take a look at a building and see how to apply these rules:

Example: Juan owns a 1-story, 6,200 sq. ft. grocery store with no cooking on the premises, and he is the sole occupant in the building. A recent WSRB inspection has determined that it has 33 ½% combustible walls, with the remainder of the building having 8-inch hollow masonry. The store is not sprinklered, has a fire hydrant within 300 feet, and has a recognized fire station within 5 road miles. Juan’s store is located in a Protection Class 5 district.

Based on the currently filed Rule 85, how should this building be rated? We must first answer a few questions:

  1. What is the construction class?
    • Juan’s grocery store is a construction class 1. Because it has more than 33 ⅓% combustible walls, it qualifies as frame.
  2. What is the CSP code of the building and its contents?
    • A grocery store with no cooking qualifies as an 0532
    • If you’re unsure how to decide, refer to your Commercial Lines manual, Division 5, Classification Table Pages. This particular occupant would be listed under “Grocery Stores.” Because it’s under 15,000 sq. ft., it will take the 0532 (if it were the sole occupant and over 15,000 sq. ft. it would classify as 0432).
  3. What is the Rating Type?
    • Because this building is less than 25,000 sq. ft., combustible, and a CSP 0532, this building qualifies for general class rates. Because it’s not a habitational occupant it can’t qualify for the habitational class rate, and it’s not specifically rated due to its occupant, size, and construction.
  4. What is the RCP?
    • The RCP for this building would be 2105.
      • 2: This means it’s a class-rated building.
      • 1: This means it’s a construction class 1 (frame).
      • 05: This means the PC at the risk is a 5.

So how does this differ (if at all) from the previous Rule 85? The previous Rule 85 had a 5,000 sq. ft. limit on class-rated buildings. Because of this, Juan’s grocery store would have been specifically rated (his is 6,200 sq. ft.). The RCP would then be 1105.

WSRB will do inspections on both specifically and class-rated risks to help you determine the most appropriate loss cost for your tenant and/or building owners. Agents of subscribing companies and subscribers can order these inspections at no cost! Be sure you’re getting the most appropriate price for your customers!


Article by: Kristen Skinner, Social Media and Marketing Services Coordinator

Federal vs. State Regulation of Insurance – National Governors Association Letter

April 16, 2014


In a recent letter to the US Treasury (FIO), the National Governors Association (NGA) has declared their support of the current model of state-run insurance regulations. Their letter comes in response to a proposed regulatory change that FIO recommended earlier this year. The NGA worries this will institute a dual regulatory process and has stated they “stand ready to defend and protect the state system.”

State versus Federal insurance regulation is not a new discussion. As far back as 1945, Congress has been passing around the idea of who is best left to regulate the insurance industry (the 1945 decision was the individual states).

The argument debates whether a single national regulator would bring products to market faster and increase competition between agents and carriers and give more options to consumers. The Professional Insurance Agents Association has praised the NGA’s letter, stating, “Our nation’s governors are correct: The current state-based system of insurance regulation, created and reaffirmed by Congress, is best at protecting the interests of insurance consumers, the insurance industry and our nation’s economy.”

Recent issues with the need for gap coverage in the new, but quickly growing, rideshare industry (companies like Uber and Lyft) highlight the need for continued regulation on a more local level. While the rideshare industry has grown to a multistate size, the industry started in a region and grew from there.

These rideshare companies are debating whether the company or an individual driver should buy gap coverage between personal auto policies and a corporate auto policy, especially for times a driver is available but is not chauffeuring a customer. Personal auto policies exclude coverage for private vehicles transporting paying customers. Localized insurance needs like this can be more quickly addressed by state regulators, with coverage suggested or new policy language adopted much faster than a national regulator might. National regulation would attempt to focus on 50 states’ needs, rather than individualize for one. While the rideshare coverage questions are still being debated, California has been able to respond quickly and suggest which changes needed to be made.

Individual states also have different rules about how auto insurance should be written and what coverage should apply. A federal rule on car-sharing coverage could create confusion in the marketplace by possibly contradicting existing state laws and policy coverages.

WSRB has previously pointed out the proven track record of success of our state-based insurance regulatory system. We would like to join the NAIC, PIA, and other agent and company groups in commending the NGA for their letter and their willingness to stand ready to defend the current system.


Article by: Kristen Skinner, Social Media and Marketing Services Coordinator

Landslide Insurance and High-Risk Areas

April 11, 2014

HillsideThe employees of the Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the community of Oso and its surrounding areas as well as the families, friends, and neighbors of those who were lost in the tragic landslide on March 22, 2014. If you would like to make a donation, has listed some charities and benefits taking contributions. Please keep in mind that scammers do pose as charities, so please donate wisely.

We would also like to thank the first responders and everyone involved in the search and rescue efforts and the ensuing clean up. This is a monumental task, and everyone has worked tirelessly to help a community heal.

The tragic landslide is another reminder for home and business owners to consider special insurance coverage. The Northwest Insurance Council has given WSRB permission to repost the following article from their website. Please visit for more information.


SEATTLE –   Saturday’s massive landslide in Oso, Washington happened within days of last year’s Whidbey Island Landslide anniversary.  In the aftermath, NW Insurance Council reminds homeowners and business owners to consider special coverage for landslide and mudflow damage. Homeowners who purchased additional landslide insurance prior to the slide will have coverage to rebuild their homes.

“This is a very sad time for the Oso community and our thoughts and prayers are with them, said Karl Newman, NW Insurance Council president. “The scope of the devastation highlights the need for special insurance if you own property above or below a steep slope. Property owners in high-risk areas need special coverage that is not included in a standard home or business insurance policy.”

Standard Homeowners and Business Insurance policies specifically exclude damage caused by earth movement such as a landslide. Special coverage for landslides is available as a stand-alone policy for an additional cost.  As with all of your insurance policies, understanding what is and is not covered is a key first step toward protecting your property before a disaster strikes.

A Difference in Conditions policy includes coverage for landslide, mudflow, earthquake and flood.  Depending on risk factors, such as the slope of your property or proximity to a cliff, a homeowner with a $300,000 house can expect to pay $1,000 or more per year for this coverage.

Due to the additional cost, some may be tempted to rely on Federal aid for disaster recovery.  However, Federal aid following a disaster often comes in the form of low-interest loans. These loan payments are due in addition to your existing mortgage.

If you live in a high-risk area, there are several things you can do to protect yourself from landslides.  NW Insurance Council offers the following tips:

  • Create a family evacuation plan.
  • Learn and recognize early landslide warning signs such as: doors or windows that stick or jam, new cracks in plaster, tile, bricks or foundations, broken underground utility lines and bulging ground at the base of a slope.
  • Build retaining walls and install flexible pipe fitting to avoid gas or water leaks.
  • Maintain a complete inventory of all your possessions, including photographs, receipts and serial numbers.  NW Insurance Council offers free downloadable Home Inventory Software from the Insurance Information Institute. 
  • Damage to vehicles caused by landslide is covered if the owner has chosen optional Comprehensive Coverage in the auto policy.           
  • Personal contents inside a vehicle that are damaged by a landslide are not covered under standard Homeowners or Renters insurance. 
  • If you aren’t sure what’s covered or have questions regarding your policy, contact your agent or insurance company.

If you’d like more information on how to protect your family and property from disasters, contact the NW Insurance Council at (800) 664-4942 or visit


For additional information on disaster preparedness, please also visit the Disaster Preparedness section on our blog. We would like to thank Karl Newman, Sandi Henke, and the Northwest Insurance Council for letting us use this information. To read the post in its entirety, please click here. This post also appears in the latest edition of the IIABW newsletter.

Concurrent Causation and Your Insurance Policy

April 7, 2014

Insurance PolicyWhat is concurrent causation in property insurance and why should you care? To sum up this longer definition from IRMI, concurrent causation in property insurance is when covered and uncovered perils occur either at the same time or in sequence and result in a loss.

To use a real life example, in a famous case in California (Premier Ins. Co. v. Welch, 189 Cal. Rptr. 657, [Cal. App.])heavy rains contributed to a mudslide that knocked an insured’s home off of its foundation. Upon investigating the claim, it was found that human error in the construction of the home caused inadequate drainage, which contributed to the home moving off of its foundation. Because the buildup of water beneath the home was a covered cause of loss but the earth movement from the hillside above was not a covered cause of loss, a judge ruled this as concurrent causation and Welch won the case.

Because of concurrent causation lawsuits in the 1980s, like the one above, the industry moved away from all-risk policies in favor of policies that better defined covered and non-covered perils. One of the most notable was the change from “all risk” peril policy language and the adoption of “open perils” language instead. Any peril not specifically excluded from an “all risk” policy was therefore covered, and while the same rule basically still applies, “open peril” was adopted as a more neutral phrase. The other significant change was the adoption of anti-concurrent causation (ACC) language in insurance policies. Some states do allow ACC language in their policies, so it’s important for those doing business in multiple states to be aware of what language is approved and where.

Keep in mind that as an agent or company doing business in Washington, this state does allow ACC policy language. Three court cases (Graham v. Pemco, 98 Wn.2d 533; Villella v. Pemco, 106 Wn.2d 806; and Safeco v. Hirschmann, 112 Wn.2d 621) are typically cited as the reason why. Exceptions for this language can be found in Boiler & Machinery, Farm, Businessowners, Capital Assets, Commercial Property, and Commercial and Personal Inland Marine line of business forms.

So why should you care? Concurrent causation and ACC language in a policy can make a huge difference in how a group of perils causing a loss is covered. Landslides may not be covered under earth movement, but as we saw in the case at the start, a concurrent loss caused by human error during construction can still result in coverage.

If you’re curious what your business or homeowners policy may cover, we urge you to contact your insurance agent. We’ve mentioned before that you should consult them as you would your doctor or attorney, and the ins and outs of coverage is no exception! Insurance is not always simple, but agents are trained and should always be there to help you out!


For further reading on how policy forms have changed and their effect on concurrent causation (and building collapse), check out this article from Adjusters International.

Article by Kristen Skinner, Social Media and Marketing Services Coordinator

April Marks The Start of Wildfire Season

April 2, 2014

WildfireApril marks the beginning of wildfire season in Washington State, and with recent weather reports showing that El Niño may bring a drier and warmer summer than normal, now is the time to prepare. In a previous post we covered how to minimize your risk during a wildfire, but do you know how wildfires spread? According to, there are three main threats that a home or business can be at risk for if they’re in a wildfire territory: windborne embers, radiant heat, and direct flame contact.

Windborne Embers:

  • Windborne embers, also called firebrands, are fairly self-explanatory. They’re hot or still flaming pieces of ash and ember that get carried in the wind or drafts created by the heat of a fire. These can travel a fair distance and have been known to melt vinyl window frames, ignite roofing materials, and get into the attic space of an unsealed roof. These embers sometimes remain smoldering for quite a while despite going undetected.
  • Having a fire-resistive roof that is properly sealed can help minimize this risk and may be a good option for people who live in notorious wildfire areas. Cleaning your gutters can also help minimize risk.

Radiant Heat:

  • Radiant heat works similarly to baseboard heaters in a home. As the baseboard heater warms up, the heat is spread into the cold room to warm the entire space. The farther from the heater you are, the colder the room is. It’s no secret that fires are hot, but wildfires will release huge amounts of heat in all directions, and this heat, when close enough to a structure, can cause it to ignite combustible materials. Thankfully most combustible materials more than 30 feet away from a wildfire are at a greatly reduced risk of igniting. For this reason it is recommended to keep at least 30 feet around your home or business clear of debris.
  • Consider this: according to this safety sheet from Fireman’s Fund insurance, the average temperature at the floor of a forest fire is 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit—the flashpoint of wood (flashpoint is the temperature at which a material will self-ignite) is only 572 degrees Farhenheit.

Direct Flame Contact:

  • Perhaps the easiest to understand, direct flame contact is exactly as it sounds: when a flame directly contacts a combustible debris or structure and catches it on fire.

There are also two other methods of heat transfer: convection and conduction. Convection tends to cause windborne embers which quickly cause a fire to spread. The high winds generated by wildfires can carry these embers for many miles.

If you are in a fire zone and have cleared a space around your home, sealed your roof, attic, and vents, and taken as many safety precautions as possible, is there anything else you can do from an insurance standpoint?

  • If you live in an area that could potentially be affected by a fire, photograph or video tape your possessions. Should a loss occur, having a record of the items in your home can help your insurance company process the claim faster. It can also help you be sure to claim all of your items, since in an emergency it can be easy to forget all of the little things in your home.
  • Review with your agent the type of coverage your home has. The Oregon Insurance Department gives a good reminder of replacement cost versus actual cash value. The type of coverage you have can make a big impact on how items will be replaced.
  • There’s an app for that! Download the emergency management app from to be sure you’re completely prepared. While it isn’t just limited to wildfire safety, it will help your family or business plan for multiple disasters.
  • Watch out for smoke pollution. During the Taylor Bridge fire in 2012, smoke pollution concerns stretched from Leavenworth to Wenatchee, and even the Columbia River crossing just outside of Ellensburg was covered in a thick smoke. Air quality advisory maps published by the Washington State Department of Health can help your family, business, and customers stay safe.

For additional information on wildfires, check out these websites:


Article by Kristen Skinner, Social Media and Marketing Services Coordinator

Sprinkler System Grandfathering Laws – The Debate Continues

March 31, 2014

IMG_4165A recent deadly fire at a motel in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey, has once again brought up the debate about whether sprinkler system grandfathering laws should exist for certain types of occupants. This most recent fire, at the Mariner’s Cove Motor Inn, killed four people and injured seven more. Another tragic fire in Boston this last week took the lives of two firefighters who were trying to clear out a basement in a brownstone where a fire had started (although it is currently unknown whether this building has been grandfathered in to sprinkler law, or if one was just not installed).

Other cities have been discussing the need for installing sprinkler systems in existing buildings. In Chicago, debates have gone on for at least the past two years, arguing whether high-rise condominium complexes should be retroactively fitted with life safety sprinkler systems. The Chicago debates could also potentially require systems be installed in all buildings occupied by 50 or more people (including churches, restaurants, etc.). These laws are being hotly contested, and motions are even being put forth to limit the authority of the city’s fire chief, arguing that he’s bypassing the legislative process.

Proponents of these laws argue that sprinkler systems are necessary for saving lives. And when the numbers are examined, it does prove to be the case. A recent arson fire in a Washington State nightclub was quickly extinguished by a sprinkler system that was retroactively fitted to the building based on mandates set forth by the state in 2007; 750 lives were saved because of this change in the law. The Rhode Island Nightclub Fire in 2003 possibly could’ve been prevented had Rhode Island not grandfathered in nightclubs, allowing them to not install sprinkler systems.

Detractors argue that the cost of installing these systems and the cost of water damage cleanup after a fire outweighs the potential benefit. In Chicago alone over 700 buildings would have to be retrofitted to comply with proposed new sprinkler legislation at a potential cost of $30 million in one building alone. There is no arguing that the cost of installing these systems can be high, but the number of lives saved should also be a consideration.

Water damage cleanup may also not be quite the issue many people believe it to be. This study by the Scottsdale Report shows that home fire sprinklers use approximately 341 gallons of water to control a fire whereas a firefighter response would use an average of 2,935. Insurance policies also consider fire as a covered cause of loss, as well as the ensuing damage from the fire. Because of this, the water from the automatic sprinkler system (this is sometimes included under concurrent causation, which we will focus on in a future blog, but in standard fire policies should be covered under fire-related water damage) should be covered—contact your agent if you have questions!

The deaths in the New Jersey motel fire were caused by smoke inhalation and not the direct flames of the fire, which could be another argument against the need for fire sprinklers. However, automatic fire sprinkler systems do tamp down the smoke and slow the spread of heat, thus giving occupants more time to exit the building.

WSRB is a property rating bureau and because of that we focus our sprinkler system field inspections on property safety (NFPA 13 compliant) systems. However, sprinkler systems designed to save property are very effective at saving lives. We encourage the installation of sprinkler systems in all commercial and residential properties because sprinklers are so good at what they are designed to do: automatically extinguish fires.NFPA 13R (residential) systems are specifically designed for residential use and to give building occupants 10 to 15 minutes to exit a building once a fire has begun.

For more information on home fire sprinkler systems, please visit for dwelling sprinkler systems and the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) or National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for additional information and answers to your questions.


Article by Kristen Skinner, Social Media and Marketing Services Coordinator


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 834 other followers

%d bloggers like this: