MENU
The page content begins here

Earthquake Insurance

Earthquake Insurance

No, as a rule, earthquake damage is insured only to a small extent in Switzerland. In the event of a major earthquake, most house and apartment owners would not be reimbursed for the cost of any possible damage, or would be reimbursed only partially. The specific rules vary from canton to canton. Parliament is currently discussing whether to extend the obligatory fire and natural hazards insurance to cover earthquake damage.

Swiss Insurance Association

Buildings in 19 Swiss cantons are currently insured against fire and natural hazards by a state-owned monopoly insurer (Aargau, Appenzell Ausser Rhoden, Basel-Country, Basel-City, Bern, Fribourg, Glarus, Grisons, Jura, Lucerne, Neuchâtel, Nidwalden, St. Gallen, Solothurn, Thurgau, Schaffhausen, Vaud, Zug, and Zurich) and in 7 cantons by private building insurers (Appenzell Inner Roden, Geneva, Obwalden, Schwyz, Ticino, Uri, and Valais). At present, the earthquake risk cannot be insured within the context of this obligatory building insurance.

In 1978, 18 cantonal building insurers came together to form the Swiss Pool for Earthquake Insurance, which in the event of an earthquake will provide benefits on a voluntary basis. The cover provided by the earthquake pool currently amounts to CHF 2 billion; a further CHF 2 billion is available for a second earthquake in the same year. The building insurer of the canton of Bern (GVB) quit the pool on January 1, 2013. Since then, future earthquake damage in the canton of Bern can no longer be covered by the pool.

The building insurer of the Canton of Zurich (GVZ) covers earthquake damage with resources from an in-house fund, providing cover of up to CHF 1 billion. The same sum would be available in the event of a second earthquake occurring in the same calendar year.

In the cantons of Appenzell Inner Rhoden, Geneva, Obwalden, Schwyz, Ticino, Uri, and Valais, private building insurers provide fire and natural hazard insurance. In these cantons, no financial resources are available for voluntary compensation following an earthquake.

Private insurers offer voluntary earthquake insurance solutions. At the present time, these products represent the only solution for the contractual coverage of earthquake damage in Switzerland.

Source: Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), 17.02.2015

The benefits of an earthquake insurance policy are dependent upon many factors. The following factors are important: the vulnerability of a building, local subsoil, the likelihood of a damaging earthquake, and the insurance terms and conditions. For this reason, it is not possible to provide a universal recommendation. An insurance policy represents one means of reducing the personal (financial) risk, and is an element of integrated risk management.

Only to a limited extent. The corresponding standards from the Swiss Society of Engineers and Architects (SIA) were first published in 1989. Since the introduction of the latest generation of SIA structural standards in 2003, earthquake-resistant building design is being implemented more systematically, although only a few cantons actually implement the standards. The following cantons have explicitly anchored adherence to the applicable SIA standards in their statutory regulations, and/or impose earthquake-specific conditions within the context of planning permission procedures:

  • Aargau
  • Basel City
  • Fribourg
  • Jura
  • Lucerne
  • Nidwalden
  • Valais

In all other cantons, the legal obligation regarding the implementation of the SIA structural standards is not explicitly clarified and does not cover earthquake-resistant building design in planning permission procedures.

Source: Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), 17.02.2015

Earthquake-resistant construction aims to:

  • protect people from collapsing structures;
  • minimise structural damage;
  • preserve the functionality of key structures in the event of an incident;
  • limit consequential damage from earthquakes (e.g. due to fire, loss of production).

Detailed information about constructing new buildings to withstand earthquakes, or corresponding reinforcements for conversions or renovations, is available from the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN).

The last major earthquake to cause substantial damage occurred in 1946 in Valais. However, the earthquakes of February 17, and March 14, 1964 in the canton of Obwalden also caused significant damage. A major damage-causing earthquake with a magnitude of approximately 6 is likely to occur at a location somewhere in Switzerland every 50 to 150 years.

The likelihood of a large earthquake occuring near to where you live can be estimated from the magnitudes maps. The effects maps indicate how often specific consequences of an earthquake could occur where you live.

Although such damaging earthquakes are relatively infrequent, earthquakes represent the natural hazard with the greatest potential to cause damage in Switzerland. The reasons for this are twofold. Switzerland has densely populated settlements as well as relatively high building and infrastructure vulnerability. Also, while catastrophic earthquakes occur rarely, they can cause extensive damage over substantial areas. For example, a repeat of the Basel earthquake of 1356, which had a magnitude of 6.6, would cause damage in excess of CHF 100 billion.

An insurance solution represents a key aspect of integrated risk management. The Swiss Seismological Service favors a nation-wide solution – one that boosts protection from the consequences of an earthquake across Switzerland. Politicians will need to decide how a solution of this nature is to be realized (e.g. in the form of comprehensive insurance protection, or another collective solution).