Category Archives: Disaster Preparedness

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.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-9-17-44-am

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.

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-05-18-am

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.

Disaster Preparedness? There’s an App for That

Research tells us that 40 percent of Americans use their smartphone to look up government services or information, so if you’re charging your mobile devices in preparation for Tropical Storm Hermine you might want to download the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) updated disaster app.

The free FEMA app now lets you receive weather alerts from the National Weather Service, so you can get alerts on severe weather happening anywhere in the country even if your phone is not located in the area. This makes it easy to track severe weather—such as a hurricane—that may be threatening you, your family and friends.

Other features of the FEMA app that will help you weather the storm include a customizable checklist of emergency supplies, maps of open shelters and disaster recovery centers, and tips on how to survive natural and man-made disasters.

Important features of the app for after the storm, include a disaster reporter where you can upload and share photos of damage and recovery efforts to help first responders, as well as easy access to apply for federal disaster assistance.

Craig Fugate, FEMA administrator:

“Emergency responders and disaster survivors are increasingly turning to mobile devices to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. This new feature empowers individuals to assist and support family and friends before, during, and after a severe weather event.”

The FEMA app is available for free in the Apple store for Apple devices and Google Play for Android devices.

Here at the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) we also recommend you download our award-winning Know Your Plan app which helps you, your family and even your pets prepare to safely get out of harm’s way ahead of the storm.

In addition, the I.I.I. Know Your Stuff home inventory app allows you to keep an up-to-date record of your belongings so you’re fully covered in the event of an emergency.

Both I.I.I. apps are available for iPhone or Android.

Being Prepared for Summertime Flash Floods

Several regions of the country appear to be under flash flood watches and/or warnings as we head into the weekend, underscoring the risk of summertime flooding from slow-moving thunderstorms or excessive rainfall and the need to be prepared.

Weather Underground reports that the threat of flash flooding, and eventually river flooding, will become more widespread from Texas and Louisiana to the Ohio Valley and parts of the Great Lakes in the coming days.

Flash flooding is already reported to be serious in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi as of Friday morning.

Climate scientists believe that the number and volatility of extreme intense precipitation events is on the rise due to the changing climate.

Munich Re describes flash floods as a much underestimated risk:

“While media interest tends to focus on storm surges and river floods, the risk of flooding in places away from rivers and lakes is generally overlooked.”

Flash floods typically occur as independent, localized and random events and unlike river flooding, it’s the intensity rather than the total amount of rainfall that is the concern.

A recent report by FM Global warned that U.S. businesses, depending on their location, should start preparing now for increased, extreme rainfall that a changing climate will likely deliver.

Certain regions of the United States are expected to be prone to more intense precipitation events and a potentially increased risk of flooding, FM Global said. Here’s the graphic:

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 10.25.15 AM

Buildings, machinery, data centers, transportation networks, supply chains, people and sales can all be affected by extreme wet conditions, according to the report. When companies have a choice, they should site their facilities in nothing less than 500-year flood zones (where there’s only a 1-in-500 chance of a flood every year), it suggests.

Businesses should also sharpen their focus on water management, diverting water from property, optimizing drainage and protecting water supplies, and considering new weather extremes when managing supply chains.

For any home or business the purchase of flood insurance is key to being prepared for flash flooding, or any kind of flooding event, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Flood damage is excluded under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies, but available as a separate policy both from the National Flood Insurance Program and some private insurers.

Check out these Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) resources on steps you can take to protect your home or business from flood damage.

Alerting You to Earthquakes… and Insurance

Earthquake resilience was  in the spotlight as the Obama administration gave its support for an earthquake-alert system on the West Coast at a White House summit Tuesday.

President Obama also signed an executive order establishing a federal earthquake risk management standard which will improve the capability of federal buildings to function after a quake.

The order requires federal agencies to ensure that federal buildings are constructed or altered using earthquake-resistant design provisions in the most current building codes.

A 2015 scientific assessment from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that more than 143 million Americans could experience potentially damaging earthquakes, nearly double the prior 2006 estimate.

The ShakeAlert early warning system being developed and tested in the West would warn  residents and businesses from at least a few seconds to a few minutes before the shaking starts.

This would be  enough time to slow and stop trains and taxiing planes, and to prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels, for example.

A common misperception among Americans  is that earthquake coverage is provided in a homeowners or business insurance policy.

However, standard homeowners, renters and business insurance policies do not cover earthquake damage. Coverage is available either in the form of an endorsement or as a separate policy.

Residential earthquake insurance in California is sold through the California Earthquake Authority, a privately funded, publicly managed organization.

Some 85 percent of U.S. homeowners said they do not have coverage for earthquake damage in response to the Insurance Information Institute’s (I.I.I.) annual Pulse Survey.

The I.I.I. Pulse results showed significant variations in the number of consumers that have earthquake insurance across the U.S.

That number was greatest in the earthquake- prone West, where 18 percent of homeowners said they had purchased separate earthquake insurance coverage.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 9.29.28 AM

Information on reducing earthquake damage to homes and businesses is available on the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS)  website.

The  I.I.I. also offers facts and statistics on earthquakes and tsunamis here.

Spreading Awareness of Insurance to Small Businesses

A couple of new studies appear to shed light on the continuing need to communicate the importance of insurance for small business owners.

First, a Nationwide-sponsored survey found that 66 percent of small businesses do not have business interruption insurance (hat tip to Insurance Journal for its report here). This is despite the fact that an estimated 25 percent of businesses do not reopen following a major disaster.

Most small business owners are at risk of disaster, Nationwide noted. Some 75 percent of small businesses do not have a disaster recovery plan in place, even while 52 percent say it would take at least three months to recover from disaster.

Nationwide commissioned the survey from Harris Interactive, which polled 500 U.S. small business owners with fewer than 300 employees from June 8-19, 2015.

In a press release, Mark Pizzi, president and chief operating officer of Nationwide Direct and Member Solutions, said:

Small businesses are least likely to have disaster recovery insurance. And yet they are the ones most affected by a disaster. That’s why it’s essential for small businesses to have a disaster recovery plan.”

Meanwhile, a J.D. Power study found that many small business owners are unaware that insurers even provide commercial insurance.

Less than one-fourth of small business owners said they were aware that nine of the 17 insurance providers included in the study offer insurance for business customers.

Only six insurers had awareness rates above 40 percent for their commercial insurance offerings, and five of these are among the largest personal lines insurers, J.D. Power said.

While advertising is important to spread brand awareness, the study suggested that commercial insurers have better success when they develop awareness through agents/brokers, trade groups and word of mouth from other businesses.

The proportion of customers who considered/shopped an insurer among all potential prospects is 61 percent when awareness comes from an agent/broker or trade group, compared with just 38 percent when awareness is attributed solely to advertising.

Still, the study–now in its third year–found that small business customers are increasingly satisfied with their insurance providers. Overall satisfaction was up 10 points at 793 on a 1,000-point scale in 2015, due primarily to improvements in price and policy offerings.

The 2015 U.S. Small Business Commercial Insurance study is based on 3,292 responses from insurance decision-makers in businesses with 50 or fewer employees that purchase general liability and/or property insurance and was fielded from April through June 2015.

The Insurance Information Institute’s excellent online resource for business insurance is available here.

Infographic on Hurricane Katrina

The Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) is looking back at the costliest hurricane in U.S. history that took 1,800 lives and cost $125 billion in total economic losses, via a comprehensive infographic.

Insurance claims by coverage and state, total National Flood Insurance Program losses from Katrina, and other sources of Katrina recovery funds are all detailed.

Another compelling section to the infographic asks where are we now?

One of the fascinating analogies it draws is that even as awareness of flooding due to coastal storms rises, so too does the population of coastal communities.

As the I.I.I. notes, the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina gives us a timely opportunity to look at the nation’s preparedness for megadisasters.

I.I.I. disaster preparedness experts will be available via satellite media tour on Thursday August 27 to discuss how individuals and small business owners can better prepare.

View the infographic below to see Hurricane Katrina by the numbers:

katrina10_infographic_web_4