Editor’s note: Meet Marcie Geffner at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7, 2009. She will be available to meet with conference attendees from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6, in the Palace Hotel’s Ralston Room. Click here to send Marcie a message.

A 4.7.

That was how one earthquake that struck Los Angeles this spring ranked on the good old Richter scale. The quake actually felt to me like a much bigger one than it really was because the epicenter in Inglewood was quite close to my house.

Being a second-generation native of this area, I’m not generally afraid of earthquakes. I remember several from my childhood and none of them was particularly scary. In fact, I slept through one of the bigger ones and dreamt that the house had a fever and chills or had been magically transported to a much colder climate or something like that.

That’s not to say that we took earthquakes lightly in my family or that we ignored common-sense precautions. Bookcases were bolted to the wall. Breakable items were kept on lower shelves. Pictures were never hung over beds. Flashlights were kept handy, and the batteries were freshened up now and then.

We all knew the drill of what do to when the ground started to shake beneath our feet as well. Visitors were frightened, but we natives just shook off the temblors as a necessary risk of living in a near-paradise.

Within seconds, the earthquake would be over and after a collective sigh of relief and a few nervous telephone calls to our nearest and dearest, we’d get back to whatever we’d been doing before we’d been so rudely interrupted.

But I have to admit that all of my blasé bravado toward earthquakes evaporated when I became a homeowner. At last, I began to understand the true threat of earthquakes and most especially the fearfully awaited "Big One" that is supposed to reduce my hometown to rubble.

Each time a quake hits my house, I tremble in fear, and in my worried state of mind, I think, "Please let the house be OK. Please let the house be OK. Please let the house be OK." Repeat that 20 more times.

Yes, I do have earthquake insurance, but the deductible is unaffordable and the coverage, such as it is, wouldn’t go far in the event of a truly disastrous earthquake. My only hope is a vain one: that somehow the mere fact that I obtained and paid for the state-sponsored insurance, which not all homeowners have done, might count for something when the relief is dolled out.

Of course, earthquakes aren’t the only natural disasters that can destroy a home or an entire community of homes. There are floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, droughts, fires, hailstorms and other such calamities, all of which can rise to the proverbial biblical proportions. Homeowners everywhere are exposed to such financial risks. …CONTINUED

Given the terror of those disasters, I’m constantly surprised by the enormous fear of earthquakes that’s been expressed to me by a great many of my non-Californian friends. Personally, I’m more afraid of a severe snowstorm than I am of a small earthquake.

That may seem insane to anyone who doesn’t live here, but in fact there is some evidence to support my belief that the risk of property damage from an earthquake outweighs both the risk to people of an earthquake and the risk to both people and property of other types of natural disasters.

Last year, 236,000 people, mostly in Asia, lost their lives in more than 300 disasters, according to The Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, released in June.

The report states "an essential modern-day truth," which is that we can’t prevent disasters, "but we can limit their potential for disaster."

The report suggests a few ways to accomplish that goal and one of the ways is "upgrading squatter settlements and providing land and infrastructure for the urban poor." That’s a valuable message for homeowners since an earthquake in Los Angeles isn’t likely to be as disastrous as one in a place where millions of people live in horrifyingly unsafe shelters.

Of course, when the Big One finally hits Los Angeles, as it’s naturally expected to do one day during my lifetime, I just may have to eat my words and admit that a quake of such magnitude and intensity could turn out to be really scary indeed.

Please let the house be OK. Please let the house be OK. Please let the house be OK.

Marcie Geffner is a veteran real estate reporter and former managing editor of Inman News. Her news stories, feature articles and columns about home buying, home selling, homeownership and mortgage financing have been published by a long list of real estate Web sites and newspapers. "House Keys," a weekly column about homeownership, is syndicated in print and on the Web by Inman News. Readers are cordially invited to "friend" the author on Facebook.


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