“Any home can flood,” says Dan Kaniewski — managing director for public sector innovation at Marsh & McLennan and former deputy administrator for resilience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Even if you’re well outside a floodplain…. Get flood insurance. Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter or a business — get flood insurance.”
Dr. Rick Knabb — on-air hurricane expert for the Weather Channel, speaking at Triple-I’s 2019 Joint Industry Forum — is similarly emphatic.
“If it can rain where you live,” he said, “it can flood where you live.”
Despite such warnings, even in designated flood zones, the protection gap remains large. A McKinsey & Co. analysis of flood insurance purchase rates in areas most affected by three Category 4 hurricanes that made landfall in the United States — Harvey, Irma, and Maria — found that as many as 80 percent of homeowners in Texas, 60 percent in Florida, and 99 percent in Puerto Rico lacked flood insurance.
To make matters worse, a recent analysis by the nonprofit First Street Foundation found the United States to be woefully underprepared for damaging floods. The report identified “around 1.7 times the number of properties as having substantial risk,” compared with FEMA’s designation.
“This equates to a total of 14.6 million properties across the country at substantial risk, of which 5.9 million property owners are currently unaware of or underestimating the risk they face,” the foundation says.
A more recent Triple-I analysis, conducted in advance of Hurricane Sally, found that flood insurance purchase rates in the counties most likely to be affected by the storm were “remarkably low.”
“In Taylor County, Ga., for example, just 0.09 percent of properties are insured against flooding,” Triple-I wrote.
NOT covered by homeowners insurance
Flood damage is excluded under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. However, flood coverage is available as a separate policy from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), administered by FEMA, and from a growing number of private insurers, thanks to sophisticated flood models that have made insurers more comfortable writing this once “untouchable” risk.
Invest in resilience
If it seems as if you’ve heard me beat this drum before, you’re right. I take flood and flood insurance very personally.
After Hurricane Irene flooded my inland New Jersey basement in August 2011, destroying many irreplaceable items, it was my flood insurance that enabled me to have a French drain and two powerful pumps installed that have since kept my historically damp basement bone dry – even during Superstorm Sandy the following year.
The 2020 Triple-I Consumer Poll found that homeowners are protecting their properties against disasters like flooding and hurricanes at a higher rate than previously reported, a welcome development as the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season got off to an early start and is expected to produce a higher-than-average number of storms.
“The insurance industry’s focus on resilience is starting to pay dividends as more Americans recognize the very real risks their residences face from floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters,” said Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Triple-I. “There is still time to act. Hurricane Sally today became the eighth named storm to make landfall in 2020 but the Atlantic hurricane season continues through the end of November.”
However, the poll also found that greater consumer understanding on insurance coverage is still needed.
In something of a surprise, 27 percent of homeowners surveyed reported they have flood insurance, the highest level of flood coverage reported since the Triple-I began asking Americans this question in 2007. Most insurance industry and FEMA National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) sources estimate anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of U.S. residences are covered under a flood insurance policy.
It is possible a number of Triple-I Consumer Poll respondents with homeowners insurance believe they have flood coverage when they actually do not. The discrepancy between those who have flood insurance and those who think they do gives insurers an opportunity to inform their customers about the need to purchase flood insurance, either from the NFIP or a private insurer, according to the Triple-I.
In addition to floods and hurricanes, the poll looked at how Americans assessed their risks from wildfires and earthquakes and surveyed the percentage of U.S. drivers who received auto insurance premium relief this year after the pandemic reduced miles driven nationwide.
The poll was conducted in July and is available here.
As Hurricane Sally slowly moves over the Gulf Coast in the next few days, historical flooding is predicted from rainfall for parts of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and the Carolinas.
National Weather Service published a map of areas in Gulf Coast states most at risk for flash floods. Triple-I estimated the percentage of properties in these counties that are covered by flood insurance and found that purchase rates are remarkably low in some areas. In Taylor County, GA for example, just 0.09 percent of properties are insured against flooding.
Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies do not cover flooding. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a growing number of private companies sell the coverage. However, NFIP policies purchased now would take 30 days to take effect. Private companies have shorter waiting periods, about 14 days.
Hurricane Sally made landfall this morning near Gulf Shores, Alabama, as a Category 2 storm with sustained winds of 105 mph and higher gusts. The storm threatens extremely heavy rainfall and catastrophic floods for miles. Dr. Philip Klotzbach, Triple-I non-resident scholar and Colorado State University atmospheric scientist, gives an update on the storm in the video above.
This year’s National Preparedness Month theme of “Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today” has never been more appropriate. Join the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), the Small Business Administration (SBA), and the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) during National Preparedness Month for a live webinar on how to prepare for severe weather, COVID-19 interruptions, and other forms of disaster that can have a significant impact on small businesses.
The webinar will showcase small businesses as they share their stories of preparing for and successfully recovering from disaster. In addition to these stories, the webinar will also cover what small business loans are available after a disaster, what tools are available to help businesses prepare, and what you need to know about insurance coverage.
Gail Moraton, CBCP – Business Resiliency Manager at IBHS
Alison Bishop, Internal Operations Manager at Spry Health, Inc. (https://spryhealth.com/)
Alejandro Contreras – Director of the Office of Preparedness, Communication and Coordination in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Disaster Assistance (ODA)
Janice Jucker – Co-Owner at Three Brothers Bakery, Houston, TX – 2018 Phoenix Award Winner for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery (https://3brothersbakery.com/)
Loretta Worters – Vice President, Media Relations at Triple-I
From hurricanes to wildfire, tomorrow’s webinar with IBHS, Triple-I and Small Business Administration will cover all disasters and how you can prepare your business.
Organized into two categories—Best Overall Hack for Resilience and Best Application of Insurtech—Hack-for-Resilience III was a virtual event conducted over 36 hours spanning 8:00 pm Friday night through 8:00 am Sunday morning. Students used Slack, Zoom and HopIn digital collaboration platforms, to recruit and select teammates, ideate, seek guidance from mentors, and produce and demonstrate hacks.
This year’s H4R attracted 38 teams from as far away as British Columbia, Brasil and India. Some interesting trends emerged: For 2020, several hacks used gamification—applying the principles and characteristics of video gaming to tasks and problem-solving—as a technique to teach and test catastrophe resilience. This year also saw numerous student innovators drawing inspiration from their own families’ recent natural disaster experiences.
A panel of judges that included Dr. Carolyn Kousky, Wharton Risk Center’s Executive Director and Dr. Michel Leonard, the Triple-I’s Vice President and Senior Economist, selected first- and second-place winning hacks in both categories. They are:
Developed as a way to get households into a “resilience frame of mind,” INSURA uses location and historical loss data, to incentivize catastrophe resilience by making a game of preparedness and mitigation. Users enter information about their homes and known risks, and INSURA suggests mitigation activities and common household maintenance chores. Players are scored by calculated potential insurance premium savings.
Created in response to recent wildfires, CLAIM CART makes it easier for users to file claims for insured losses by guiding them step-by-step through creating an effective household inventory to receive maximum payout for their lost possessions. The app works by querying insurer and public loss and item pricing data to help people prepare for a disaster by more accurately presenting and organizing information about the contents of their home.
Inspired by the development team members experiences during recent California wildfires, AIR.LY is billed as “the one-stop shop [for finding] safe outdoor retreats during wildfires.” AIR.LY helps delivers vital, in-real-time help to an often-overlooked group: persons afflicted with respiratory issues or other health complications.
Designed and built by a team of high-schoolers, S.O.S. is story-mode game that allows players to choose disaster scenarios that present multiple options to instruct on fire and flood safety, as well as effective preparedness and evacuation practices.
First place-winning team members will each receive a $200 Amazon gift card for their winning hacks, while the runners-up each will receive a $100 Amazon gift card. New for 2020 is an additional reward for first place winners, entry into a Resilience Accelerator Lightning Rounds ideas showcase, where teams will demo their winning hacks to a panel of insurance innovation leaders and investors.
The Wharton Risk Center and the Triple-I wish to again extend our thanks to all who contributed to making Hack-for-Resilience III and PennAppsXXI a rousing success!
By James Ballot, Senior Advisor, Strategic Communications, Triple-I
Hurricane Sally looks to be a very significant hurricane for the northern Gulf Coast according to Triple-I non-resident scholar and Colorado State University atmospheric scientist Dr. Philip Klotzbach.
While the Category 1 storm doesn’t look to intensify much today given relatively strong wind shear and cooler sea surface temperatures (since the storm is moving very slowly and consequently churning up colder water beneath the surface), we’re likely to have a long duration storm event unfolding over the next several days.
Wind impacts will be moderate, but the storm will be moving very slowly, so a prolonged period of high winds can be expected. The very slow-moving hurricane is going produce tremendous amounts of rain along the northern Gulf Coast. Large regions will likely experience 10+” of rainfall, with isolated storm totals approaching 30″, said Dr. Klotzbach.
Emergency declarations for parts of Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have been issued and residents are urged to listen to local officials.
U.S. Gulf Coast residents from Louisiana to Florida should prepare for Tropical Storm Sally, which is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall on Tuesday.
There is uncertainty over the specific timing and location of Sally’s landfall, as well as its ultimate intensity level. Severe weather conditions will last, however, for several days in multiple states.
The NHC warns Sally will generate destructive hurricane-force winds; torrential rain; life-threatening storm surge; flash flooding; isolated tornadoes; and widespread power outages.
Sally will be the eighth named storm to make landfall in the continental U.S. this hurricane season. Previous 2020 landfalls include Hurricanes Hanna, Isaias and Laura as well as Tropical Storms Bertha, Cristobal, Fay and Marco.
Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida residents in the path of Sally should take the following precautions:
Review your evacuation plan and, if you have a pet, your pet’s evacuation plan.
Make sure you have a minimum seven-day supply of non-perishable food and drinking water (one gallon per person, per day) for all family members and pets, as well as a one-week supply of medications for everyone in your household.
Write down the name and phone number of your insurer and insurance professional and keep this information either in your wallet or purse.
Purchase emergency supplies, such as batteries and flashlights.
Prepare your yard by removing all outdoor furniture, lawn items, planters and other materials that could be picked up by high winds.
Fill your car’s gasoline tank because long gas lines and fuel shortages often follow in areas impacted by a tropical cyclone.
Perhaps the most emotionally compelling data point invoked by those who would compel insurers – through litigation and legislation – to pay business-interruption claims explicitly excluded from the policies they wrote is the property/casualty insurance industry’s nearly $800 billion policyholder surplus.
Many Americans hear “surplus” and think of a bit of cash they have stashed away for emergencies. And when you consider that nearly 40 percent of Americans surveyed by the Federal Reserve said they would either have to borrow or sell something to cover an unexpected $400 expense – or couldn’t pay it at all – that number may sound like overkill.
Not as much as you think
But policyholder surplus isn’t a “rainy day fund.” It’s an essential part of the industry’s ability to keep the promises it makes to policyholders. And although a number like $800 billion may raise eyebrows, when we look more closely at its components, the amount available to cover claims turns out to be considerably less.
Insurers are regulated on a state-by-state basis. Regulators require them to hold a certain amount in reserve to pay claims based on each insurer’s own risk profile. The aggregation of these reserves – required by every state for every insurer doing business in those states – accounts for about half the oft-cited industry surplus.
Call it $400 billion, for simplicity’s sake.
Each company’s regulator-required surplus can be thought of as that company’s “running on empty” mark – the point at which alarms go off and regulators start talking about requiring it to set even more aside to make sure no policyholders are left in a lurch.
By extension, $400 billion is where alarms begin going off for the entire industry.
It gets worse – or better, depending on your perspective.
In addition to state regulators’ requirements, the private rating agencies that gauge insurers’ financial strength and claims-paying ability don’t want to see reserves get anywhere near “Empty.” To get a strong rating from A.M. Best, Fitch, S&P, or Moody’s, insurers have to keep even more in reserve.
Why do private agency ratings matter? Consumers and businesses use them to determine what insurer they’ll buy coverage from. Also, stronger ratings can contribute to lower borrowing expenses, which can help keep insurers’ operating costs – and, in turn, policyholders’ premiums – at reasonable levels.
So, let’s say these additional reserves amount to about $200 billion for the industry. The nearly $800 billion surplus we started with now falls to about $200 billion.
To cover claims by all personal and commercial policyholders in a given year without prompting regulatory and rating agency actions that could drive up insurers’ costs and policyholders’ premiums.
Which brings us to today.
Losses ordinary and extraordinary
In the first quarter of 2020, the industry experienced its largest-ever quarterly decline in surplus, to $771.9 billion. This decline was due, in large part, to declines in stock value related to the economic recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
Insured losses from this year’s Hurricane Isaias are estimated in the vicinity of $5 billion. Hurricane Laura’s losses could, by some estimates, be as “small” as $4 billion or as large as $13 billion.
And the Atlantic hurricane season has not yet peaked.
The 2020 wildfire season is off to a horrific start. From January 1 to September 8, 2020, there were 41,051 wildfires, compared with 35,386 in the same period in 2019, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. About 4.7 million acres were burned in the 2020 period, compared with 4.2 million acres in 2019.
In California alone, wildfires have already burned 2.2 million acres in 2020 — more than any year on record. For context, insured losses for California’s November 2018 fires were estimated at more than $11 billion.
And the 2020 wildfire season still has a way to go.
All this is on top of routine claims for property and casualty losses.
Four billion here, 11 billion there – pretty soon we’re talking about “real money,” against available reserves that are far smaller than they at first appear.
No end in sight
Oh, yeah – and the pandemic-fueled recession isn’t expected to reverse any time soon. Economic growth worldwide remains depressed, with nearly every country experiencing declines in gross domestic product (GDP) – the total value of goods and services produced. GDP growth for the world’s 10 largest insurance markets is expected to decrease by 6.99 percent in 2020, compared to Triple-I’s previous estimate of a 4.9 percent decrease.
If insurers were required to pay business-interruption claims they never agreed to cover – and, therefore, didn’t reserve for – the cost to the industry related to small businesses alone could be as high as $383 billion per month.
This would bankrupt the industry, leaving many policyholders uninsured and insurance itself an untenable business proposition.
Fortunately, Americans seem to be beginning to get this. A recent poll by Future of American Insurance and Reinsurance (FAIR) found the majority of Americans believe the federal government should bear the financial responsibility for helping businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Only 16 percent of respondents said insurers should bear the responsibility, and only 8 percent said they believe lawsuits against insurers are the best path for businesses to secure financial relief.
Held virtually, the third annual “Hack-for-Resilience” begins on Friday, Sept. 11 and concludes on Sunday, Sept. 13 as part of PennAppsXXI, the nation’s oldest student-run hackathon. The word “hack,” in the context of a hackathon, describes how multiple technologies can be used in new and innovative ways.
“This event allows the Triple-I and its Resilience Accelerator partners to bring together insurers and student innovators who have the same goal—to create new products and services that will reduce the risks people face from natural disasters,” said Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Triple-I. The Triple-I’s Resilience Accelerator was launched in 2019 to reduce the impact of extreme weather events on households and communities through insurance.
The 2020 edition of this competition will give entrants from midnight on Saturday, Sept. 12 through 9 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13 to show their skills. During this time, teams of up to four students will conceive, test, and deliver working apps while others develop hardware solutions, Internet of Things (IoT) protocols, and data tools that can save lives and reduce property damage in the wake of a natural disaster.
A team of judges from Wharton Risk Center and Triple-I will award first- and second-place cash prizes in two categories: “Best Overall Hack” and “The Most Outstanding Application of Insurtech,” which is defined broadly as either a product or service that improves the insurance customer experience. The winning teams will be announced on Sunday evening, Sept. 13.
The first-place prizes in 2019 were awarded to the creators of Phoenix, an autonomous drone with the capacity to track and extinguish fires (Best Overall Hack) and WildFire Protect, a parametric insurance product which would pay a policyholder immediately after they incurred a wildfire-related property loss (The Most Outstanding Application of Insurtech).
You can follow this year’s competition on social media via the hashtag #H4R2020