Category Archives: Disaster Preparedness

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.

Hurricane Season Not Over Yet

Tropical storm Otto, earlier on record as the seventh hurricane of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, continues to head across the Caribbean toward Nicaragua and Costa Rica for an expected landfall on Thanksgiving Day, possibly as a hurricane.

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The National Hurricane Center has warned that Otto could bring life-threatening flash floods and mudslides to parts of Central America.

Total rainfall of 6 to 12 inches, with isolated amounts of 15 to 20 inches, can be expected across northern Costa Rica and southern Nicaragua through Thursday.

The combination of a dangerous storm surge and large and destructive waves could raise water levels by as much as 2 to 4 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore flow within the hurricane warning area, the NHC said.

Otto has already been blamed for three fatalities in Panama, according to reports.

As noted over at Dr. Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog, Otto was christened on November 21, unusually late for a Caribbean tropical storm. Only 11 Caribbean storms since 1851 have had a later formation date.

A storm of Otto’s expected strength has never made landfall so far south in the Caribbean, and there is no record of any hurricane striking Costa Rica, WunderBlog said.

The Weather Channel also tells us that NOAA has recorded only one tropical storm making landfall in Costa Rica, in any month, either from the eastern Pacific or Caribbean Sea side in their 174-year database, a December 1887 tropical storm.

Check out Insurance Information Institute facts and statistics on the Costa Rica insurance market.

It’s worth adding that it’s not unusual for Atlantic basin tropical storms to form in November.

NOAA records indicate there have been 36 Atlantic tropical cyclones of at least tropical storm strength in November from 1950 through 2015, of which 20 became hurricanes, according to the Weather Channel.

Late season storms can also be very destructive. In 1985, Hurricane Kate struck November 20-21 in the Florida Panhandle, causing $77.6 million in insured losses (about $170.9 million in 2015 dollars).

The Atlantic hurricane season officially ends November 30.

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

Preparing for Colder Weather

As some parts of the Northeast experience their first frost/freeze of the season, this is a good time to make some cold weather preparations.

NOAA’s recently issued U.S. Winter Outlook said the development of La Niña, the climate phenomenon and counterpart of El Niño, is expected to influence winter conditions this year.

La Niña favors drier, warmer winters in the southern U.S. and wetter, cooler conditions in the northern U.S. but because forecasters expect it to be weak and short-lived, we probably shouldn’t bet against snow.

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Other factors that often play a role in the winter weather include the Arctic Oscillation, which influences the number of arctic air masses that penetrate into the South and create nor’easters on the East Coast, and the Madden-Julian Oscillation, which can affect the number of heavy rain events in the Pacific Northwest.

NOAA explains that its seasonal outlook does not project where and when snowstorms may hit or provide total seasonal snowfall accumulations.

“Snow forecasts are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance. However, La Niña winters tend to favor above average snowfall around the Great Lakes and in the northern Rockies and below average snowfall in the mid-Atlantic.”

Whatever the outlook (and some forecasters have a different take on how this winter may turn out), it pays to be prepared. As Mike Halpert, deputy director, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, says:

“Regardless of the outlook there is always some chance for extreme winter weather, so prepare now for what might come later this winter.”

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety has resources on how to protect homes and businesses from winter weather damage here.

Winter storms are historically very expensive for insurers, and the third-largest cause of catastrophe losses, behind hurricanes and tornadoes, the Insurance Information Institute reports.

US Cat Losses By Cause of Loss

Winter storms caused an estimated $3.5 billion in insured losses in 2015, up from $2.6 billion in 2014, according to Munich Re.

Home Fire Drill

My older son has a fire safety drill at school today and my younger son’s class field trip to the firehouse is next week, which is my personal reminder that it’s time to test our home smoke alarms.

In fact smoke alarms are once again the theme of this year’s National Fire Prevention Week,  and there are good reasons why.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistics show that three of every five residential fire deaths in the United States result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.

And almost 40 percent of fire fatalities that occur in the U.S. are in homes with no smoke alarms.

Being prepared in the event of a home fire is also critical.

Despite the fact that nine in 10 structure fires occur in the home, a recent survey by Nationwide found that only one in five parents regularly practice fire escape plans at home.

Nearly half of all parents surveyed (45 percent) also report that their children do not know what to do in the event of a home fire.

To raise awareness of this issue and encourage families to be more prepared, tomorrow Nationwide is launching Home Fire Drill Day as part of its Make Safe Happen program.

What can you do?

First, know where to go. Pick a safety spot that’s near your home and a safe distance away. Explain to your kids that when the smoke alarm beeps they need to get out of the house quickly and meet at that safety spot.

Test your smoke alarms with your kids so they know what they sound like. Then, do the drill and see if you can all make it out of the house to the safety spot in under two minutes. If not, do it again.

As Nationwide says: “We do fire drills at school. We do them at work. Now, let’s do them at home.”

Sounds like a plan.

The Insurance Information Institute has facts and statistics on fire losses here.