Category Archives: Catastrophes

You Need Flood Insurance

Homes under water after Hurricane Harvey.

We talk a lot about flood insurance at I.I.I. for at least two good reasons:

  • It’s the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States, with billions of economic losses every year. According to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), 90 percent of natural disasters in the U.S. involve flooding.
  • A 2016 I.I.I. survey found that 43 percent of US homeowners incorrectly think that heavy rain flooding is covered under their homeowners insurance – and only 12 percent had flood insurance.

Floods happen. Regularly. Even if you’re not in a flood zone – and even if you’re not usually in the path of a hurricane. If your home gets flooded, it will be a financial and emotional nightmare: FEMA argues that only 1 inch of water can cause $25,000 of damage to your home.

Your homeowners insurance won’t cover floods: If you don’t have flood insurance for your home, you probably aren’t covered under your homeowners or renters policies because flood risks used to be considered uninsurable.

To address this lack of coverage, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was created back in the 1960s. The NFIP is a federal program that provides flood insurance to participating communities. If your community participates in the program, you can often purchase insurance through a private insurer that handles policies and claims on behalf of the NFIP.

Private insurers have also recently begun offering flood insurance outside of the NFIP, as new modeling techniques have helped them get a better handle on the risks and costs.

Flood insurance will usually cover physical losses to your home caused by floods or flood-related events, like erosion – with some limitations (trees and fences aren’t covered, for example). You can also buy coverage for the contents inside your home, making flood insurance a crucial tool to help you get back on your feet.

Because disaster assistance won’t be enough: disaster assistance is often only available if you live in a declared disaster area. And even if you are, the FEMA disaster grant is only about $5,000 per household, a fraction of the average flood insurance claim of $30,000.

Flood insurance pays whether you’re in a declared disaster zone or not.

To learn more about how flood insurance works, see our resources here at I.I.I.:

Hurricane Dos and Don’ts

If you live in the projected path of Hurricane Florence, you should be prepping your home and finalizing your emergency and evacuation plans.  

Heavy rain and wind storm at a beach front condo property.

Here are some Dos and Don’ts to consider for prepping and riding out the storm.  

Don’t: 

  • Don’t go outside during the storm. This is a no-brainer. Even a category 1 hurricane can reach sustained winds of 74 mph. Category 5 winds are over 156 mph. Wind speeds like this can turn even small debris into deadly missiles. And don’t be fooled by the eye of the storm – there will be a period of calm before the hurricane force winds return from the opposite direction.
  • Don’t grill indoors. If your power goes out, don’t be tempted to throw some steaks onto a grill indoors. Charcoal or gas grills can release deadly levels of carbon monoxide.
  • Don’t drink non-bottled or untreated water. Flood waters are often filled with bacteria and other contaminants – including sewage. Don’t drink tap water – and don’t drink any water exposed to flood water, including bottled water. The FDA has tips on how to make your tap water safe to drink.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. I repeat: Don’t drink alcohol during a hurricane. You never know when you will need to evacuate at a moment’s notice or deal with a life-threatening emergency. You’re going to want all your wits about you while the hurricane is raging – lives could depend on it, yours included. That’s why some jurisdictions will ban alcohol sales prior to a hurricane.  

Do: 

  • Do stock up on lots of water. The CDC recommends at least 5 gallons of water per person. You may also want to buy iodine tablets to clean drinking water.  
  • Do make sure you have more to eat than chips and salsa. Or bread, for that matter – you’re going to want to have lots of non-perishables with nutritional value, especially canned foods. A minimum 3 to 5-day supply per person is recommended.
  • Do prepare your house properly. Clear your yard of furniture or anything else that could blow away. Cover your windows and doors using storm shutters or plywood – and stay away from windows and doors during the storm, if you can. Make sure your carbon dioxide detector has enough battery life to prevent CO poisoning. (Check out a longer list for house prep here. I.I.I. also recently gave some advice on preparing your home.)
  • Do be responsible and prepare for the worst. Make sure you have emergency and evacuation plans in place before the storm hits. Communicate these plans to everyone at your house. Find out where the nearest storm shelter is. Keep track of the storm. Have flashlights and extra batteries ready. Buy a first aid kit. Ready.gov has more advice here 

These are not exhaustive lists. Make sure to check governmental information for help on prepping for a hurricane. And be safe out there. Hurricanes are not a joke. 

First ever flood risk catastrophe bond launched

On July 16, FEMA launched its first catastrophe bond to transfer risk from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to the capital markets, reports the Artemis blog. This will be the first catastrophe bond to solely provide reinsurance coverage for flood risks.

FEMA is seeking $275 million of reinsurance protection from a FloodSmart Re Ltd. (Series 2018-1) issuance. FloodSmart Re, a Bermuda domiciled special purpose insurance vehicle, will seek to issue two tranches of notes that will be sold to insurance linked securities funds to collateralize underlying reinsurance agreements to cover a portion of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) U.S. flood exposure.

The transaction will cover NFIP losses from flood events that are directly or indirectly caused by a named storm event impacting the United States and also Puerto Rico, U.S.  Virgin Islands and District of Columbia.

Fitch: P/C Insurers Financially Prepared for Hurricane Season

Via Business Insurance:

U.S. insurers are well prepared at the start of the 2018 hurricane season to withstand a significant catastrophe this year after suffering through last year’s volatile hurricane season, according to Fitch Ratings Inc.

Fitch cited a 7.5 percent increase in surplus last year, to a record $765 billion.

Surplus grew thanks to healthy investment gains, Fitch noted, which more than offset hurricane-driven underwriting losses. U.S. insurers ceded a significant portion of catastrophe losses to offshore reinsurers and alternative capital. And much of the flood loss in the Houston area from Hurricane Harveywere borne by the National Flood Insurance Program.

The heavy reinsurance losses did cause the bottoming out of rates in property and catastrophe reinsurance, Fitch indicated, but increases were “not to the degree that many market participants had anticipated.”

Updated 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook: Cooler Atlantic Temperatures Could Lead to Below-Average to Near-Average Hurricane Season

Special to the Triple-I Blog

by Philip Klotzbach,Ph.D,
Research Scientist, Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University and I.I.I. Nonresident Scholar

Colorado State University (CSU) has just updated their outlook for the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, and is now calling for a near-average season with a total of 14 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes (maximum sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater; Category 3-5 on the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale) (Figure 1).  This prediction is a slight lowering from their initial outlook in early April which called for 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.  Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) and Net Tropical Cyclone (NTC) activity are integrated metrics that take into account the frequency, intensity and duration of storms.

Figure 1: May 31, 2018 outlook for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season

CSU’s meteorological team uses a statistical model as one of its primary outlook tools.  This methodology applies historical oceanic and atmospheric data to find predictors that were effective in forecasting previous years’ hurricane activity. Based on data dating back to 1982, this model has shown consistent accuracy. (Figure 2)  Statistical forecast for 2018 is calling for a below-average season.

Figure 2: Accuracy of June statistical forecast model at predicting historical Atlantic hurricane activity (since 1982)

CSU also employs an analog approach, which uses historical data from past years with  conditions that are most similar to those currently observed (as of May 31, 2018).  The team also forecasts projected conditions during 2018 peak hurricane season (August-October) by looking at historical data from years with similar August-October conditions.

This approach yields a similar outlook of below-average to near-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the tropical Atlantic and near-average sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific.  The average of the four analog seasons calls for a near-average season. (Figure 3)

Figure 3: Analog predictors used in the May 31, 2018 seasonal forecast

CSU does not anticipate a significant El Niño event for the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season.  At this point, the meteorological team believes that the most likely outcome is neutral conditions for the next several months.  El Niños tend to reduce Atlantic hurricane activity through increases in upper-level winds that tear apart hurricanes as they are trying to develop.  Most of the dynamical and statistical model guidance agrees with this assessment and calls for neutral conditions for the next several months. (Figure 4)

Figure 4: Statistical and dynamical model guidance for El Niño

Most models are calling for neutral conditions for August-October, as highlighted by the black arrow. (Figure courtesy of International Research Institute for Climate and Society.)

The primary reason for a reduced seasonal forecast (compared with earlier 2018 outlook), is due to anomalous cooling of the tropical Atlantic over the past couple of months.  As shown in Figure 5. most of the Atlantic right now is quite a bit cooler than usual. In addition to providing less fuel for storms, a cooler tropical Atlantic is also associated with a more stable and drier atmosphere as well as higher pressure—all conditions that tend to suppress Atlantic hurricane activity.

Figure 5: Current SST anomalies in the North Atlantic.  SSTs are much cooler than normal across the entire tropical Atlantic

The most important thing to note with all seasonal forecasts is that they predict basinwide activity and not individual landfall events.  However, regardless of what the seasonal forecast says, it only takes one storm near you to make it an active season.  Therefore, coastal residents are urged to have a plan in place now before the hurricane season ramps up over the next couple of months.

Extra: If you live in a hurricane-prone region, your homeowners insurance policy may have a separate hurricane deductible. This infographic explains what you need to know.

The Ellicott City Flood: Rebuilding Begins with Resilience

By Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Insurance Information Institute

On May 27, for the second time in three years, Ellicott City, Maryland was ravaged by what meteorologists term a “1,000-year flood”—this while some businesses were still celebrating the one-year anniversary of their reopening after the August 2016 catastrophe.

As affected households and businesses assess the damage and pledge to rebuild (or to relocate) after this deadly event, one fact looms largest: that 1,000- or 100-year floods now seem to strike with numbing regularity. The time has come, then, for communities and individuals to accept this paradigm shift by embracing resilience.

Local, state and federal governments have a wide range of tools at their disposal to effectuate resilience, including public policy solutions and rebuilding/retooling critical infrastructure to withstand greater stresses. However, for business owners, homeowners, and renters, the most important step they can take is to close the “coverage gaps” that expose them to massive uninsured losses that can delay or prevent recovery. And for regulators and insurers, this creates an excellent opportunity for public/private solutions to meet this growing challenge head-on.

The need for sustainable and resilient infrastructure: lessons from Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is still suffering the devastating aftereffects from 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria. Rebuilding the island will cost up to $50 billion according to a recent statement by FEMA head, William “Brock” Long.  Many residents are still without power and the new hurricane season is just around the corner.

The situation in Puerto Rico is a warning to North America of what could happen If we fail to address our outdated and crumbling infrastructure, according to a new report from Zurich North America.

The report, Rebuilding Infrastructure: The Need for Sustainable and Resilient Solutions, points out that during the years leading up to Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico’s infrastructure had been in increasing need of routine maintenance. The island’s power grid had fallen into a particular state of disrepair as a result of declining revenues and political corruption.

While the U.S. mainland infrastructure may not be in as bad a shape, the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events makes the issue of resilient and sustainable building impossible to ignore.

The report stresses the importance of planning to rebuild BEFORE a disaster strikes and of anticipating future needs. On the positive side, over the past few years, use of reinsurance and catastrophe bonds by governments and government agencies have been increasing. Several South and Central American countries have obtained bonds that would pay for damage caused by earthquakes, and FEMA has begun obtaining reinsurance for its National Flood Insurance Program.

Thomas wildfire to cost insurers between $1 billion and $2.5 billion

Catastrophe risk modeling firm RMS puts insured and reinsured losses stemming from the December Thomas fire in Southern California at somewhere between $1 billion and $2.5 billion, reports the Artemis blog.

The fire, which started on December 4, became the largest in California history and was followed by devastating mudslides in burned areas stripped of vegetation.

RMS estimates include losses from burning or smoke damage to personal and commercial lines and insured losses due to business interruption and additional living expenses. They don’t include automobile and agriculture losses, or damage related to the recent mudslides.

 

The I.I.I. has Facts & Statistics on wildfires here.

Adapting to flooding with amphibious architecture

The New Yorker magazine reported recently on the work of the Buoyant Foundation Project, an organization that provides architectural flood mitigation solutions for vulnerable populations.

Amphibious architecture allows an otherwise-ordinary structure to float on the surface of rising floodwater. An amphibious foundation retains a home’s connection to the ground by resting firmly on the earth under usual circumstances, but allows a house to float when flooding occurs.

A buoyant foundation is specifically designed to be retrofitted to an existing house that is already slightly elevated off the ground and supported on short piers.  Under the house the foundation’s buoyancy blocks provide flotation, vertical guideposts prevent the house from floating away, and a frame ties everything together.  Any house that can be elevated can be made amphibious.

Amphibious retrofitting has not yet gained widespread acceptance, and buildings with amphibious foundations are not eligible for subsidized policies offered by the National Flood Insurance Program.