Category Archives: Disaster Preparedness

NHC warns on rainfall and flooding from Tropical Storm Cindy

Heavy rainfall due to Tropical Storm Cindy is expected to produce flash flooding across parts of southern Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Total rain accumulations of 6 to 9 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches are expected in those areas, the NHC says.

On Tuesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey declared a statewide state of emergency in preparation for severe weather and warned residents to be prepared for potential flood conditions.

FEMA flood safety and preparation tips are here.

Flood damage is excluded under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. However, flood coverage is available in the form of a separate policy both from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and from a few private insurers.

Insurance Information Institute flood insurance facts and statistics show that the number of flood insurance policies increased in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

Here are the numbers:

London fire renews focus on prevention and safety

Fire safety officials around the world are reinforcing prevention and evacuation guidance to high-rise residents following the deadly 24-story apartment building fire at Grenfell Tower in West London.

So far, at least 17 people are confirmed dead in the fire (Editor’s note: at least 80 people now confirmed or presumed dead). UK prime minister Theresa May has ordered a public inquiry into the blaze. Insurance will play a role in the recovery.

Officials say that while catastrophic fires on the scale of Grenfell Tower are statistically rare, awareness is key.

GlobalNews.ca reports here, NJ.com here, and the Manchester Evening News reports here. USA Today lists the worst high-rise fires in history here.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that the fire death per 1,000 fires and the average loss per fire are generally lower in high-rise buildings than in other buildings of the same property use.

“A major reason why risks are lower is probably the much greater use of fire protection systems and features in high-rise buildings as compared to shorter buildings.”

High-rise buildings are more likely to have fire detection, sprinklers and to be built of fire-resistive construction and are less likely to spread beyond the room or floor of origin than fires in shorter buildings, the NFPA says.

From 2009 to 2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 14,500 reported structure fires in high-rise buildings per year.

Five property types account for three-quarters (73 percent) of high-rise fires: apartments or other multi-family housing; hotels; dormitories or dormitory type properties; facilities that care for the sick; and office buildings.

NFPA adds that high-rise buildings present several unique challenges not found in traditional low-rise buildings, including longer egress times and distance, evacuation strategies, fire department accessibility, smoke movement and fire control.

The two deadliest high-rise fires in U.S. history were caused by terrorism: the fires and collapse of the twin towers after two planes flew into the World Trade Center, New York City on September 11, 2001, and the April 19, 2005 truck bomb outside a nine-story federal building in Oklahoma City.

I.I.I. fire statistics are here.

Disaster theme parks coming to a city near you?

In Japan, disaster learning centers that allow visitors to experience simulated earthquakes, typhoons and fires are gaining five-star reviews on travel sites like TripAdvisor and providing valuable lessons in preparedness.

The Japan Times reports that earthquake simulators have become major tourist draws at more than 60 disaster education centers nationwide and are attracting growing numbers of foreign visitors.

Some attribute the increased interest in disaster prevention education in Japan to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Others note that tourists today are more interested in life experiences than shopping.

From The Seattle Times: “Many of the more than 60 centers feature large shake tables where visitors can ride out fake quakes as powerful as the real thing. In some centers, visitors navigate life-size dioramas of crushed cars and teetering power poles while being quizzed on the best response to dangerous situations.”

The emphasis is on personal responsibility and action: how to make your way safely through wreckage and how to find the closest shelter.

So could centers like these form a valuable part of disaster preparation in earthquake-prone parts of the United States?

According to The Seattle Times, civic leaders in Seattle have long wanted to import the concept to quake-prone Western Washington, where many residents have only a vague understanding of the risks.

It quotes Bill Stafford, a retired director of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle: “If people could experience the visceral jolt of being rattled on a shake table or of picking their way through a recreation of a post-quake Seattle, they might take the risks more seriously.”

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on earthquakes.

Prepare The Same For Every Hurricane Season

Early 2017 Atlantic hurricane forecasts are predicting fewer storms, but here’s why coastal residents shouldn’t let their guard down.

Colorado State University’s (CSU) Tropical Meteorology Project: “Coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them, and they need to prepare the same for every season, regardless of how much activity is predicted.”

London’s TSR (Tropical Storm Risk): The precision of hurricane outlooks issued in April is low and large uncertainties remain for the 2017 hurricane season.

Forecasters believe development of potential El Niño conditions in the coming months will suppress storm activity.

What are the numbers?

CSU: 11 named storms, with 4 hurricanes and 2 major (Category 3-4-5) hurricanes. The median between 1981 and 2000 was 12 named storms, 6.5 hurricanes and two major hurricanes. U.S. major hurricane landfall is estimated at 80 percent of the long-period average.

TSR: 11 named storms, with 4 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. 2017 Atlantic hurricane activity will be 30 percent below 1950-2016 long-term average.

I.I.I. hurricane facts and statistics here, plus information on flood insurance here.

Following Insuring Florida blog for more on hurricane preparedness.

Cyclone Debbie: Storm Surge Biggest Threat

More than 30,000 people in low-lying coastal areas have been urged to evacuate their homes ahead of powerful Cyclone Debbie, as it bears down on the Queensland coast in northeastern Australia.

With landfall expected early Tuesday, Cyclone Debbie is currently a Category 4 storm and could intensify to Category 5. A Category 4 storm on the Australian scale equates to wind gusts of more than 140 miles per hour, the New York Times said.

Storm surge poses the biggest threat as the cyclone strengthens, according to major weather forecasters and news outlets.

The Sydney Morning Herald: Cyclone Yasi, which struck north Queensland in 2011, powered a storm surge that reached 7.5 metres between Cardwell and Tully Heads, akin to a tsunami, said David King, the director of the Centre for Disaster Studies at James Cook University in Townsville.

The New York Times: “People living in coastal or low-lying areas prone to flooding should follow the advice of local emergency services and relocate while there is time,” said Bruce Gunn, the regional director of Queensland’s bureau of meteorology. 

The warnings are a good reminder that while we may think of destructive winds as the biggest danger in a cyclone or hurricane, storm surge is often more deadly.

Here in the U.S. the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this hurricane season will use a storm surge watch/warning system to highlight areas along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts that are at risk of life-threatening inundation.

The new tool will alert residents to the risks of rising water and the need to evacuate, the Tampa Bay blog said.

A 2016 updated study by CoreLogic found that more than 6.8 million homes located along both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States are at risk of damage caused by hurricane-driven storm surge flooding. More on storm surge risk via the Insurance Information Institute facts and statistics on flood insurance.

Spring-Ready With Flood Insurance

It’s the first day of Spring and here in New Jersey we’re expecting a balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Rising temperatures + snowmelt = flooding.

NOAA’s Spring Outlook calls for moderate to major flooding in northern North Dakota and in the Snake River basin in Idaho and flags California, which saw extensive flooding in February, as susceptible to additional flooding in the coming weeks.

Spring also marks the start of severe weather season for many states. Resources on severe weather preparedness are available at the Insurance Information Institute ( I.I.I.) website and weather.gov.

Which brings us to this:

Many homeowners incorrectly believe that flooding is covered by standard homeowners insurance, according to the I.I.I. Consumer Insurance Survey.

In fact, flood insurance is available from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a few private insurance companies.

How to change the misperception?

Part of the answer lies in education, as the I.I.I. says:

“Consumers can—and should—educate themselves about their coverage, recognize that they may have gaps in their coverage and seek guidance from an insurance professional when they purchase or renew a policy.”

The other part of the challenge, as outlined by Wharton professor Howard Kunreuther in an issue brief, lies in how to communicate to people that the best return on an insurance policy is no return at all.

“In reality, insurance is a protective measure should one suffer a loss. Homeowners should celebrate not having a loss because the financial consequences for an uninsured individual could be staggering.”

What do you think?

Ready For First Flakes In Northeast Blizzard?

In the words of the National Weather Service (NWS): “Things get interesting for the East Coast beginning Monday night.”

A strong nor’easter will cause a late season winter storm stretching from the central Appalachians to New England, with impacts for many of the big cities in the Northeast like New York City, Boston, Philadelphia.

Widespread winter storm warnings are now in effect for heavy snow accumulations. Blizzard conditions are expected for the NY/NJ metro areas, in addition to damaging wind gusts and coastal flooding, per NWS New York.

How much snow?

Via NWS NY blizzard briefing this morning:

Key preparation stats for New York alone, include:

  • The New York State Emergency Operations Center is activated with stockpiles of sandbags, generators, pumps and vehicles on standby.
  • New York City’s Department of Sanitation is pre-deploying 689 salt spreaders across the five boroughs. PlowNYC is activated (where you can track the progress of city spreaders/plow vehicles) and more than 1,600 plows will be dispatched when more than 2 inches of snow accumulates.
  • New York City Transit will monitor conditions for subways and buses via its Incident Command Center situation room, with 13,000 personnel on duty for subways during the storm, including more than 9,700 snow-fighting personnel.
  • Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has hundreds of pieces of snow equipment at the airports, including melters able to liquefy up to 500 tons of snow an hour and plows that can clear snow at 40 mph.

And insurers, too, are well-prepared and ready to respond to the needs of their policyholders.

Are you prepared? Check out Insurance Information Institute facts and statistics: winter storms and winter weather preparation tips.

Winter Weather Hazards Alert

With winter storm warnings in place for large swathes of the Northeast, including major metro hubs of Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, the onset of heavy snow is all but a certainty.

But as insurers and reinsurers will tell you, the term ‘winter storm’ covers a multitude of hazards, such as high winds, snow, severe cold, and freezing rain, all of which can cause significant property damage and ultimately insured losses.

Insurance Information Institute facts and statistics show that from 1996 to 2015 winter storms resulted in about $30.4 billion in insured catastrophe losses (in 2015 dollars), or about $1.5 billion a year on average, according to Property Claim Services (PCS).

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Given the broad definition and impacts of winter storms, how we prepare for them and prevent loss has to expand too.

Check out this FEMA resource on what actions to take when you receive a winter weather storm alert from the National Weather Service for your local area, and what to do before, during and after a snowstorm and severe cold.

And here’s a handy last minute winter weather checklist from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety to help homeowners and businesses prepare for power outages, prevent frozen pipes and roof collapses due to snow.

Atlantic Hurricane Season: The Long View

As the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season officially draws to a close just days after Hurricane Otto became the latest calendar year Atlantic hurricane on record to make landfall, the question on everyone’s lips is: are the seasons growing longer?

For if Otto, which struck southern Nicaragua as a Category 2 over Thanksgiving, is the last hurricane of the 2016 season, it will mark the end to the longest hurricane season on record the Atlantic Ocean has seen, according to NOAA.

The 2016 season had an early beginning—well ahead of its June 1 official start—when Hurricane Alex became the first Atlantic hurricane in January since Hurricane Alice in 1955.

At 75 knots, Alex was also the second strongest Atlantic hurricane on record in January, after 1955’s Alice at 80 knots, according to the 2016 season summary by Phil Klotzbach, head of Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project.

Regardless of whether this points to any long-term trend, it does appear that residents in hurricane-prone areas should keep an eye on the tropics year-round, not just in the June 1-November 30 window.

In the end, the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season was somewhat above average. As CSU’s summary outlines:

“The season was characterized by somewhat above-average named storms and major hurricanes, with slightly above-average hurricane numbers.”

The final tally was 15 named storms, including seven hurricanes, of which three were major hurricanes.

Three tropical storms (Bonnie, Colin and Julia) and two hurricanes (Hermine and Matthew) made U.S. landfall this year, according to NOAA.

There were a number of key takeaways, according to CSU, not least that a total of 78.25 named storm days and 26.25 hurricane days occurred in 2016—the most in an individual Atlantic hurricane season since 2012.

The 9.75 major hurricane days that occurred in 2016 are also the most in a single Atlantic hurricane season since 2010.

Florida’s record-long hurricane drought at 3,966 days ended when Hermine made landfall in the Big Bend of Florida on September 2.

Meanwhile, Matthew became the first Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic basin since Felix (2007).

No major hurricanes made United States landfall in 2016, although Hurricane Matthew came within about 50 miles of breaking this streak, CSU notes:

“The last major hurricane to make U.S. landfall was Wilma (2005), so the U.S. has now gone 11 years without a major hurricane landfall. The U.S. has never had another 11-year period without a major hurricane landfall since records began in 1851.”

Check out I.I.I. facts and statistics on hurricanes here.

Prepared for #CyberMonday and #GivingTuesday?

With Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday rounding out the Thanksgiving holiday digital spending and giving are expected to reach record levels, which means businesses and individuals need to be prepared for cyber threats.

In 2015, Cyber Monday was the largest e-commerce sales day ever with online orders totaling $3.07 billion and experts expect this year’s total will be higher still, according to a post on the The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Above the Fold blog.

It cautions businesses to be vigilant, especially when it comes to payment card protection, and offers the following tips:

—Change your passwords and make them strong: just as you would lock the doors before leaving, lock this door too. Make sure employees know this too.

—Install software updates known as patches that your payment service provider sends you for your payment systems: install updates, just as you would on your phone, so your payment system is protected.

—Keep business information private: keep passwords, user IDs, or other details for payment systems private. Confirm an unexpected call or email separately with the supposed caller or sender before proceeding.

Even digital philanthropy can bring out cybercriminals. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), in recent years there has been substantial growth in web-based giving or mobile donations.

In fact one of the first global-scale events that brought attention to mobile donations was the 2010 hurricane that struck Haiti. The Red Cross received millions of dollars in donations from cellphone users who simply texted the word “HAITI” to a five-digit number.

While it feels good to give, the ITRC says it’s important to remember to do your homework and check out a charity before clicking on a link or responding to potentially fraudulent email requests claiming to be a part of Giving Tuesday.

One cause you might consider supporting is The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation’s Early Learning Initiative (ELI) which provides an opportunity for every young child – regardless of means – to learn to read and write.

Join your insurance industry colleagues in the worldwide #GivingTuesday movement by contributing $5 for ELI here.

Check out the Insurance Information Institute’s facts and statistics on corporate social responsibility here. The I.I.I. white paper Cyberrisk: Threat and Opportunity has the latest information on the current exposure and how insurers are responding.