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Home > Blog > 2020 > One Year Later: Ridgecrest Earthquake Tests Resolve and Resiliency of Local Insurance Agents

One Year Later: Ridgecrest Earthquake Tests Resolve and Resiliency of Local Insurance Agents

June 26, 2020

One Year Later: Ridgecrest Earthquake Tests Resolve and Resiliency of Local Insurance Agents
State Farm Agent Gary Charlon and team

In his 38 years at the helm of a successful insurance agency in the remote Mojave Desert town of Ridgecrest, Gary Charlon thought he had experienced just about everything when it comes to running a business.

Then last year’s July 4th holiday weekend happened.

A Holiday Weekend to Remember

At 10:33 a.m. on July 4, 2019, as the 30,000 or so residents of Ridgecrest and Trona were preparing for Independence Day barbecues and fireworks, a powerful magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck the area. Less than 24 hours later at 4:08 a.m. on July 5, a magnitude 5.4 quake shook the same area. And then at 8:19 p.m. that evening, an even bigger magnitude 7.1 quake put an exclamation mark on the holiday weekend. It turns out the M6.4 and M5.4 quakes were foreshocks in advance of the bigger M7.1 mainshock.

Asked to explain the difference between the M6.4 and M7.1 shakers, Charlon simply said, “It’s like the difference between feeling something big and powerful, and feeling something really big and powerful.”

“I was inside my house for the M6.4 and outside my house for the M7.1,” recalled longtime Ridgecrest insurance agent Christina Lewis, who is part of the Daryl Silberberg agency. “It was a much different sensation. The M7.1 just felt a lot bigger. Most of the smaller aftershocks, we don’t even feel. When they are M3.5 or bigger, we feel them.”

Turns out, the shakers were the most powerful to occur in California in the last 20 years, felt not only in many parts of the Golden State, but also in Nevada and Arizona.

Said local agent Michael Johnson, who is part of the Kevin Chambers agency and a longtime Ridgecrest resident, “Most of the earthquakes and aftershocks here are the rolling ones that we can handle, but the M6.4 and M7.1 were violent.”

Kevin Chambers, Michael Johnson and team

The Effects of the Ridgecrest Earthquake Sequence

Amazingly, structural engineers found relatively little damage to the remote town’s buildings, with the brunt of the property damage occurring in mobilehome parks and on the grounds of the nearby Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.

As such, local insurance agents reported relatively small numbers of earthquake insurance claims. Lewis attributed the low number of earthquake insurance claims from last July’s M6.4 and M7.1 quakes to Ridgecrest being a small, remote community with very few multi-level buildings, and lots of single-story homes on slab foundations.

“The amount of damage and the small number of claims are not what you would think considering the fact we had a M7.1 earthquake,” she said.

As the one-year anniversary approaches, aftershocks continue to rattle the area with residents most recently experiencing a M5.5 shaker on June 3, 2020.

“It was early in the evening and I was finishing up a few things when the windows in my office started to shake,” said Charlon, referring to the latest M5.5 aftershock, one of the 40,000 quakes in and around Ridgecrest since the sequence almost a year ago.

“I definitely felt the recent M5.5 aftershock,” said Lewis.

"Dr. Lucy Jones (earthquake expert and seismologist) warned us there would be lots of aftershocks. So, I guess we should not be surprised", said Charlon. “But with all these earthquakes and now the pandemic, I am afraid to ask what could be next. It has been crazy."

Keeping Customers Protected Against Earthquakes

Charlon, Lewis, Silberberg, Chambers, Johnson and their teams represent insurance companies, which partner with CEA in providing residential earthquake insurance to Ridgecrest-area consumers. Their agencies are among the largest in Ridgecrest.

Christina Lewis, Daryl Silberberg and team

Since last July’s earthquakes, they all said their teams have been very busy renewing and updating CEA earthquake insurance policies, and also quoting and writing new CEA policies.

“People around here are definitely much more aware of the need to have earthquake insurance,” Charlon said. “The earthquakes have certainly given us plenty to talk about.” Charlon estimates his team has sold, renewed or updated hundreds of CEA policies in the last year.

Said Lewis, “In the first few weeks after last year’s earthquakes, it was as crazy as it has ever been in the 20 years I have been an agent.”

Johnson estimates that the Kevin Chambers agency has increased its overall CEA earthquake insurance policy count by as much as 30 percent in the last year. “With all the aftershocks since the big earthquakes last July, people around here are very nervous and a lot of them want to add earthquake insurance,” Johnson said.

Looking on the Bright Side

While it’s an understatement to say the last year of earthquakes and the pandemic have been challenging, chaotic and uncertain for Ridgecrest insurance professionals, Charlon, Lewis, Johnson and their teams prefer to look on the bright side and are proud of the town’s resiliency.

“We’re a military town and this is our home,” said Charlon. “We have hardly any traffic and where else can you go where the sun shines 320 days a year? Despite everything that’s happened, I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for the long run.”

Added Lewis, “There aren’t many people who can say they experienced and survived a M7.1 earthquake and are dealing with a global pandemic, all within a 9-month period.”

Mark Toohey, who is based in Southern California, joined CEA in January 2018 after a career in government affairs and media relations with Farmers Insurance. Our Northern California liaison, Lynda Foster, worked many years for State Farm in a variety of roles, including claims and training, before coming to CEA in early 2019.

Learn More! In this video CEA looks back at some of the damage caused by the Ridgecrest earthquakes of 2019 and shares the experiences lived by some of the residents.

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