Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak gestures during an interview with the Enid News & Eagle in 2014. (File Photo by BILLY HEFTON)

EDMOND, Okla. — Insurance Commissioner John Doak said look to California for improving building codes for earthquakes. City leaders could benefit consumers by implementing new building codes for future construction, Doak said.

Measures could also be taken to further protect homes from tornado damage, he added.

California has the same issues as Oklahomans do with chimneys, he said at the annual Edmond Neighborhood Summit.

Doak said he toured a home in Edmond that had lost its chimney due to earthquake activity. Chimney clamps could reinforce a structure to make it more resistant to damage.

“Folks in California learned that a long time ago,” Doak said. “They strengthened the chimneys. It’s relatively low cost. Again that’s a building code that will help you. It’s under the deductible range.”

The same rule of reinforcement by reinforcing a garage door would also help secure a home against tornado damage, he said. Beefing up codes for garage doors would be significant.

“When your garage is compromised, you’re going to lose your home,” Doak said. “If that garage door goes, typically the home goes.”

Building codes matter and need to happen at a local level, Doak continued. Learning about the devastating tornadoes that desiccated parts of Moore in recent years is an important reminder to what could occur in Edmond, Doak said.

“We could be sitting here with half of your town, half of your community, half of your association with your town gone,” Doak cautioned.

Communities should be learning about updating building codes. He equated it to building back homes in a flood zone.

Oklahomans typically rebuild homes in these areas, so it makes sense to implement improved codes that would reduce the cost of damage due to earthquakes and tornadoes, he said.

“If we reduce the hundreds of millions of dollars that are paid out in claims, ultimately that helps the entire balance of the insurance market in Oklahoma,” Doak explained.

Homes are the single largest asset for most Oklahomans. Folks who don’t have earthquake insurance are placed on a moratorium for the insurance if they apply soon after an earthquake that has caused insurance companies to pay out claims amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.

“They can’t take on more risk if they can’t take on more claims,” Doak said. “It’s the folks that have the insurance on the books that have their claims paid first.”

An example is when a hurricane is named that causes damage, an insurance company cannot write more insurance coverage on the coast in order to protect its financial solvency.

“This is how insurance works and most folks don’t understand the nuances of why these things are there,” Doak said.

Difficulties in handling insurance claims will be handled in confidence by the Oklahoma State Insurance Department. Every insurance department has 30 days to respond to Doak’s office regarding issues.

Earth rumbles too close for comfort

Guthrie residents and those in the vicinity experienced a 3.4 magnitude earthquake at 3:28 a.m. Tuesday. The temblor was centered about 8 miles northeast A 2.5 magnitude earthquake occurred in Edmond at 7:21 a.m. Monday that was about 3 miles east northeast of the city. It was followed by a 2.3 magnitude earthquake at 11:27 a.m. Monday in the same area.

City Manager Larry Stevens said everyone is concerned with the earthquake activity in Edmond.

“We’re also concerned about the unknown in terms of what it might do to our underground infrastructure,” Stevens said. “We have over 400 miles of water and sewer line that are underground.

“We don’t know what the impact of the is until we actually see a problem occur.”

There may be damage to the lines that is not apparent, Stevens said.

Stevens said city staff continues to receive comments about “What is the city doing to regulate earthquakes?”

The city of Edmond is not involved with waste water well injection associated with earthquakes, Steven said. Senate Bill 809 was signed into law last year by Gov. Mary Fallin to prohibit cities becoming involved in placing moratoriums on waste water well injection.

“Normally, we don’t like the state getting into our business, but in this case we’re happy with that state regulation,” Stevens said. “We do not feel we are qualified to be involved in that kind of monitoring and control.

“We don’t think it’s a city issue. We think it’s a state issue and it’s appropriately being addressed at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.”

James Coburn writes for The Edmond Sun.