Category Archives: Disaster Preparedness

Mobile claims units are on the ground in Panama City to assist insurance customers impacted by Hurricane Michael

Earlier in the week, Lynne McChristian, our I.I.I. representative based in Tallahassee, wrote about her  life in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Today she returns with a follow-up post.

 By Lynne McChristian

Tallahassee, FL – We were six days without power; it felt longer. Two back-to-back days of record-breaking October temperatures peaking at 90 degrees. The generator was a godsend, even if it was not powering air conditioning, only the refrigerator, an oxygen concentrator for my ailing mother, and random lights. I was trying to keep only one light on at a time to minimize the number of gasoline refills required for the generator.

At dusk, however, it became too dim for mom to navigate the house, so we flipped on more lights – and that meant refilling the generator every 8-10 hours. It ran out of gas at approximately 2:30 a.m. two nights in a row. The first night, I gassed it up in the pitch darkness with a camping light resting on the hood of my car. The second night the generator sat silent, to be refilled at daylight.

I highly recommend having a portable generator ready in advance, rather than waiting (as I did) until you experience two days without power. Here are a few models that FEMA recommends.

On Monday, I drove to Panama City to connect with insurers, many of whom had been on the scene since Sunday. Fleets of insurance company mobile claims units were in multiple places in the area, including a Lowe’s parking lot where claims adjusters from Allstate, USAA and Met Life were helping people start the insurance claims process.

Insurance claim checks were being written on the spot to storm victims for preliminary damage and for additional living expenses. I tried to drive further into town to tour the most severely damaged areas, but traffic was at a crawl. Perhaps the traffic snarl was a combination of residents trying to get back to their homes, those coming to render aid – and the curious. It felt more chaotic as fire trucks and ambulances, law enforcement vehicles and Florida Highway Patrol escorts for utility trucks were splitting through traffic and edging along the shoulder of the road. It was clear the area was still in disaster response mode, not recovery.

Panama City Beach is a tourist area about 10 miles Panama City. On Monday it was a ghost town. Beach Front Road had blocks of mainly empty hotels, closed shops, shuttered amusements, and an occasional restaurant serving meals mainly on their outside patios. It was eerie. Bay County instituted a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Back in Tallahassee, 95 percent of residents had power by Tuesday. This city known for its tree-shaded canopy roads has a great deal of that canopy lying flat alongside the road, waiting for crews to haul it away. In areas hardest hit by Hurricane Michael, the road to normalcy will be a long one. Insurers are serving policyholders throughout the affected regions – to help people recover and rebuild.

Lynne McChristian, is I.I.I.’s Florida Representative, and Assistant Lecturer and Executive Director of the Center for Risk Management Education & Research at Florida State University’s College of Business.

Hurricane Michael’s trail of destruction

Our guest blogger, Lynne McChristian, is an I.I.I. representative based in Tallahassee, about 100 miles from where Hurricane Michael came to shore.

 By Lynne McChristian

After a major natural disaster, there are various levels of survivor conditions – ranging from total devastation to mild inconvenience. In comparison to what people are experiencing in Mexico Beach and the Panama City areas of Florida, my inconveniences are extremely inconsequential. I was asked for a first-person account, and here’s where things stand on a Sunday afternoon.

In my Tallahassee neighborhood, we have been without power since about 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday. This is Day 5 of powerlessness. The air conditioners are silent in the 88-degree heat, but the rumble of portable generators is a bit overbearing, especially at night. The choice is to keep the refrigerator contents cool, or sleep.

At least we have that option and a place to sleep, whereas so many do not. Immediately after the storm, about 90% of the town was without electricity. What makes Tallahassee a beautiful part of the state is the same thing that makes it vulnerable to high winds. Decades old, stately oak trees and towering pines offer shady respite one day, and following a major storm, they become something altogether different – a barrier to returning to a comfort zone.

All over town, trees are twisted up in power lines.  The utility company has a goal of restoring power to most before the weekend is over – and so we wait. On Sunday night, 30 percent of residents still do not have power, and I among them.

I am the owner of a brand-new generator. For some, the purchase is a gamble. Bet on a fast recovery or spend $700 on a bulky tool, use it once and store it forever. My purchase was a risk management decision; my mom turned 95 last week, and she lives with me. The generator gives me confidence that she will have the steady stream of oxygen from the concentrator she uses, so it was a wise purchase in my situation. Thanks, Home Depot, for restocking the generators multiple times to aid.

Streets are clear here in the state capitol, lined with mounds and mounds of tree trunks and tree limbs. Many gas stations are out of gas. It’s an inconvenience; that is all. The focus of recovery is on the countless others who would look at this town’s Hurricane Michael experience and think it barely a blip. By comparison, it is.

 

Lynne McChristian, is I.I.I.’s Florida Representative, and  Assistant Lecturer and Executive Director of the  Center for Risk Management Education & Research at Florida State University’s College of Business.

Before you sign anything, talk to your agent

is this guy legit?

Were you well-prepared for Hurricane Michael? Good. Hurricanes are extremely dangerous.

But if you’re not careful, what happens after the storm can be just as harmful as the hurricane itself.

Beware the shady contractor. It’s a terrible story: someone’s home is damaged from a hurricane. A contractor shows up at their property and offers to complete immediate emergency repairs. All the homeowner needs to do is sign some paperwork and, the contractor assures them, their insurance company will pay for the repairs – easy as that!

Wrong. Shady contractors are not your friend. If you live in Florida, then the paperwork they want you to sign is often an “assignment of benefits” (AOB), a document that gives the contractor the right to receive payouts from your insurance company directly for repairs. (You can read all about how it works – or doesn’t work, as the case may be – on the Florida state website.)

Fraud is real and rampant. In the worst-case scenario, the shady contractor makes minimal or no repairs to the person’s home at all, but they’ll file a large claim with the insurance company anyway. If the fraudster is lucky, they’ll get the insurance payout and skip town. Meanwhile, the house is still ruined, and the homeowner didn’t get help to fix it.

Your home could go unrepaired for weeks, even months. Or the shady contractor will do unnecessary repair work, like ripping apart the kitchen because of “potential mold damage.” He promises to re-install the kitchen – but in the meantime, he bills the insurance company and the insurer pays. Sometimes, the contractor won’t reinstall the kitchen, often on some pretext or other.

This has especially been a huge problem in Florida. You can read some AOB abuse horror stories on the Consumer Protection Coalition website.

There are a lot of scams out there. Not all shady contractors are using AOBs. The Florida Department of Financial Services has also issued warnings about fraudsters who offer to provide repairs for cash – and then never provide repairs.

Talk to your agent before signing anything. Never, ever sign anything before you talk to your insurance company. Especially not if a contractor is putting up red flags, like pressuring you into signing an AOB or demanding large repair deposits up front. Contrary to what the contractor might say, you do not need to sign an AOB to get your home repaired or your insurance claim processed.

Instead, call your insurer. Many insurers will dispatch approved companies to complete emergency repairs on your property. And you’ll still be in control of your insurance policy, which hopefully will make you whole again. No shady contractors needed.

Hurricane Florence – property losses and insurance implications

Approximately 758,657 homes in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia with a reconstruction cost value (RCV) of approximately $170.2 billion are at potential risk of storm surge damage from Hurricane Florence, according to a Corelogic® release.

As we continue to keep a close watch on Hurricane Florence, we’ve put together a list of our content to help understand the insurance implications of storm related property losses.

Hurricane Florence – Home preparedness tips

Hurricane Florence is expected to make landfall along the Southeast or Mid-Atlantic coast as a category 4 storm on September 13.

According to computer model forecasts, Florence will come ashore in Southeast North Carolina, although slight variations could alter the path of the storm that will affect areas of the nation that are far away from the location of its landfall.

A state of emergency has been declared in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia in order to mobilize resources to mitigate the effects of the storm. If you are in the path of the storm, plan your evacuation route ahead of time!

Below are just a few steps you can take to protect your home:

  • Cut weak branches and trees that could fall on your house and keep shrubbery trimmed.
  • Hurricane force winds can turn landscaping materials into missiles that can break windows and doors. Much of the property damage associated with hurricanes occurs after the windstorm, when rain enters structures through broken windows, doors, and openings in the roof.
  • If you don’t have storm shutters to protect your windows from breakage, fit plywood panels to your windows, which can be nailed to window frames when a storm approaches.
  • Make sure exterior doors are hurricane-proof and have at least three hinges and a dead bolt lock that is at least one-inch long.
  • Seal outside wall openings such as vents, outdoor electrical outlets, garden hose bibs and locations where cables or pipes go through the wall. Use a high quality urethane-based caulk to prevent water penetration.
  • If you live in a mobile home, make sure you know how to secure it against high winds and be sure to review your mobile home insurance policy.
  • If you have a boat on a trailer, know how to anchor the trailer to the ground or house—and review your boat insurance policy.
  • If you have a swimming pool, lower the water level (additional tips here.)

For more detail on what to do when a hurricane threatens click here.

Lloyd’s City Risk Index: $546 billion at risk from 22 threats

As the world’s population becomes increasingly concentrated in cities, they become more vulnerable to risk events. To understand the risk, Lloyd’s compiled a City Risk Index, detailing the threat landscape for the world’s leading 279 cities.

The index estimates how much economic output (GDP@Risk) a city could potentially lose due to 22 different threats ranging from stock market crash to solar storm.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • Across all 279 cities, $546.50 billion is at risk from all 22 threats.
  • Man-made threats account for 59 percent of the total GDP@Risk – with market crash the largest single threat, with cities exposed to losses of $103.33 billion on an annual basis.
  • The 10 cities with the highest exposure have a combined $126.82 billion of GDP@Risk, almost a quarter of the global total, with Tokyo standing to lose more than any other city.
  • Climate-related risks account for $122.98 billion of GDP under threat, and this sum will grow as extreme weather events grow in frequency and severity.
  • If cities were to improve their resilience, global GDP exposure to loss would drop by $73.4 billion.

CoreLogic: 6.9 million homes worth over $1 trillion at risk for storm surge in 2018

Weather experts, including I.I.I. non-resident scholar, Dr. Phil Klotzbach, are predicting a slightly below average hurricane season for 2018, but that does not mean that the dangers of potential storm damage are negligible.

CoreLogic, an analytics company, released its annual Storm Surge report on June 5. The report found that along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts, about 6.9 million coastal homes worth over $1 trillion are at risk. CoreLogic estimates reconstruction costs for 2018 increased 6.6 percent from a year ago, mirroring increased regional construction, equipment, and labor costs.

The Atlantic Coast has more than 3.9 million homes at risk of storm surge with reconstruction cost value of more than $1 trillion, up by about $30 billion from 2017. Gulf Coast homes with the same risk total more than 3 million, with more than $609 billion in potential exposure to total destruction damage, a $16 billion increase compared to 2017.

The reconstruction cost value is calculated based on 100 percent destruction of the residential structure, using the combined cost of construction materials, equipment and labor costs.

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.

Ebola outbreak in the Congo may be eligible for pandemic catastrophe bonds

The unfolding outbreak of the Ebola virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo may activate pandemic catastrophe bonds, said a recent Artemis blog post.

Last year, the World Bank launched a “pandemic bond” to support the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF). The cat bonds are designed to payout when an outbreak gets to a stage where emergency aid financing would be required, enabling the mobilization of capital rapidly to help prevent further spread of any eligible disease outbreak.

Pandemic cat bond notes cover a range of pandemic perils including, Coronavirus, Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, Filovirus, Lassa Fever and Rift Valley Fever, with Ebola falling within the Filovirus category.

The current Ebola outbreak appears to be an eligible event under the terms of the transaction, although it’s probably too early for a formal announcement. The number of confirmed deaths remains well below the trigger point which can only begin to payout for a Filovirus like Ebola once the confirmed deaths pass 250.

Pandemics are one of the most certain uninsured risks in the world today, according to the World Bank site. There’s a high probability that the world will experience a severe outbreak in the next 10 to 15 years that could destabilize societies and economies. The annual global cost of moderately severe to severe pandemics is roughly $570 billion, or 0.7 percent of global income. The cost of a severe pandemic like the 1918 Spanish flu could total as much as 5 percent of global GDP.

What are the odds? Pretty good. . .

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt discusses how people think about probability:

People understand that if they roll a die 100 times, they will get some 1’s. But when they see a probability for one event, they tend to think: Is this going to happen or not?

They then effectively round to 0 or to 100 percent. . . . It’s . . . what many Americans did when they heard Hillary Clinton had a 72 percent or 85 percent chance of winning. It’s what football fans did in the Super Bowl when the Atlanta Falcons had a 99 percent chance of victory.

If you tell someone a thing is unlikely, they will tend to think it is impossible. When the unlikely happens, they are more likely to blame you (or your mathematical model) than their leap of logic.

In insurance, we hear about it when a flood encroaches a 500-year floodplain or a 1-in-250 year storm hits.

It is one of the biggest challenges we face in helping to create a more resilient world – convincing people that what is unlikely today is inevitable someday.