Category Archives: Disaster Resilience

Spotlight on Marianne Angeli Rodriguez, Contemporary Painter and Gallery Owner

By Katrina Cheung, Communications Manager, Triple-I

As we continue to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, Triple-I is spotlighting Filipino-American gallery owner, painter, and Covington, Louisiana-native, Marianne Angeli Rodriguez.

Rodriguez spent much of her life living abroad in West Africa, Central America, Europe, and Asia before settling in the U.S. She earned her bachelor’s in media studies and anthropology from the City University of New York at Hunter College, and a degree in fashion design from FIT. After being laid off from two different fashion industry jobs, she worked as a freelancer creating fashion and beauty sketches for magazines, in addition to taking client commissions. She eventually outgrew working in small-scale and shifted to working on larger canvases.

Rodriguez’s art has garnered attention from numerous magazines and has led to various collaborations.

Her work is on permanent display in numerous public installations, including the Sloan Kettering Cancer Centers in New York, Southern Hotel Covington, Magnolia Hotel New Orleans, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab Chicago, Nolé restaurant in New Orleans, and the New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport.

We had the pleasure of speaking to Rodriguez about her gallery, her work, how she remained resilient in the face of the pandemic and other setbacks, and how she protects her business from natural disasters.

Tell us about your work and your gallery. How did it all start?

Shortly, after I was laid off, a job opportunity for my husband moved us to a different city and I dedicated the following year to painting out of my dining room. I developed a website to sell my work online, and soon after I rented out a studio to work out of. After three years of working diligently and growing my client-base, I outgrew that space and decided on a new, more prominent, gallery location around the corner. At this point my husband joined me to work on the business full-time as my business partner and gallery director. We signed the lease to this new location two weeks before COVID shutdowns.

Wow, 2020 was such a tough year for small businesses so I can only imagine how daunting it was for you and your husband to open the gallery during the pandemic! Despite the unknown and challenges that the pandemic presented, it seems like the gallery is thriving.

Can you talk about some of the obstacles you’ve faced since opening the gallery and how you have been able to overcome them?

Since we took on a much larger brick and mortar space right in the beginning of the pandemic, our main challenge was the disappearance of foot traffic. We realized that our online presence and web shop was going to be our saving grace so we re-strategized and poured our efforts into marketing, re-designing our e-commerce platform, and becoming more engaged on social media. We also tapped into local partnerships and were able to offer more products and services including custom framing and high-quality canvas prints to diversify our offerings and meet the needs of various art buyers. Since everyone was quarantined and taking on home-improvement projects including decorating, 2020 turned out to be a prosperous year for us as a small business. 

Given that you live in a hurricane-prone area, in what ways have you safeguarded yourself and your gallery property against extreme weather?

During hurricane season, with any imminent threats, our typical drill is to secure the outer perimeter of the business by removing objects (like our hanging gallery signage) and using sandbags at entry points to safeguard against flooding. In case of emergency, we have insurance and an evacuation plan.

Art is such an important part of our history and our communities. It tells us stories from all walks of life, including those that might not be told often in mainstream media.  As an artist, what do you hope to convey to people with your art?

I’m a colorist, so first and foremost what I wish is to elicit feelings of joy, delight, and positive energy when viewers first come across my work. As a minority based in the South, it’s been a privilege to sprinkle in bits of my Filipino heritage in both the imagery and the titles/stories behind the work – it’s a way to invite others to receive new insights without necessarily speaking so directly about it, and I love the way it opens the door of deeper connections and curiosity.    

There’s been a consensus in the AAPI community that many have felt cultural and societal pressures to pursue STEM-related careers.

What advice do you have for anyone that wants to follow their dreams, but feel pressure to follow a certain career path based on societal pressures or maybe even pressure from their family?

My advice for anyone wanting to go “against the grain” is to be fully prepared to and willing to take on the rollercoaster that may lie ahead. Research your industry, know your competition and stay ahead with technology and social media. Take one step at a time, and fully immerse yourself in each evolving chapter. Take note of the hard lessons, be thankful for them as they’re there to help you move closer to the best most professional version of yourself/your business. Build trust by over-delivering on customer service. Practice gratitude daily.

Were there other times in your life that you have personally had to remain resilient despite the challenges ahead? If so, can you share what those experiences were and how that has helped you as an artist and businessowner?

Years ago, when I had just gotten laid off from my job and was dipping my toes into the artworld doing local art fairs, my car was stolen and everything I had invested in for my new venture was gone. It was devastating. My family urged me to move back home and consider a career in the corporate world. I stuck it out and stayed and rebuilt from the ground up. That experience gave me the tenacity I so needed to be fully independent, committed and driven in pursuing my creative path. Later, as I grew more serious in my practice, I got rejected from the galleries I wanted so badly to land a relationship with, but I continued to work on my art, perfecting my process and investing in courses to widen my business knowledge, and ultimately opened -and now operate- a gallery of my own.

What has been the most rewarding part of being a small businessowner?

The most rewarding part of being a small business owner, specifically as an artist, is having complete autonomy over the creative vision being released out into the world. Having the ability to positively impact your community and brighten someone’s day is both empowering and humbling.

Ten years after deadly tornado, Joplin Missouri is disaster-ready

May 22 marks the ten-year anniversary of the Joplin, Missouri, tornado – the deadliest single tornado event in U.S. history. In these videos, Triple-I’s Scott Holeman shows how the people of Joplin have recovered and become more resilient.

The EF-5 tornado destroyed thousands of homes and businesses and was the largest insurance event in Missouri history, with insured losses totaling roughly $9 billion (in 2021 dollars).

Survivors of the 2011 tornado say many lessons were learned after the devastating storm. Local insurance experts say the disaster taught the community about the importance of renters insurance and keeping homeowners policies updated. 

Today, many Joplin residents prepare a “go-kit” whenever there’s a storm threat.

Numerous public facilities, businesses and residences have added enhanced safety modifications. The high school and hospital are prominent examples.

Bracing for Another Brutal Wildfire Season

Wildfires in California and across the West are starting earlier and ending later each year.  The ongoing drought worsened last week, with every part of the state in moderate drought or worse.

After a 2020 fire season that Janet Ruiz, Triple-I’s California-based director of strategic communications, called “anything but normal,” this year’s season may be even worse.

Warmer spring and summer temperatures, reduced snowpack, and earlier spring snowmelt create longer, more intense dry seasons that make forests more susceptible to wildfire. The fire season’s length is estimated to have increased by 75 days across the Sierras and seems to correspond with an increase in the extent of forest fires across the state.

“Hots are getting hotter”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently expanded a drought emergency declaration while seeking more than $6 billion in multiyear water spending.

“The hots are getting a lot hotter in this state, the dries are getting a lot drier,” he said. “We have a conveyance system, a water system, that was designed for a world that no longer exists.”

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara has called for property insurers across the state to play a larger role in boosting wildfire preparedness among homeowners and businesses by providing more wildfire mitigation incentives. He spotlighted eight insurance companies in the state and the California FAIR Plan, which offer discounts to policyholders that have taken adequate steps to harden homes and mitigate wildfire risk.

This group represents only 13 percent of the state market, and Lara hopes the figure will rise significantly this year.

“Insurance companies support and echo Commissioner Lara’s call for mitigation,” Mark Sektnan, vice president of American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA), said in a statement on behalf of APCIA, the Personal Insurance Federation of California (PIFC), and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC).  “Insurers are working with scientists and modelers to further the science of understanding how to better mitigate wildfire risk and understanding the value of various mitigation programs and efforts. While we cannot stop wildfires, we are learning how to mitigate the risks and are moving towards understanding and quantifying the value of individual and community mitigation. Insurers encourage homeowners, renters and businesses to get their property and finances ready for wildfires, as we are facing another dry, hot summer.”

Mostly caused by people

As much as 90 percent of wildland fires in the United States are caused by people, according to the U.S. Department of Interior. Some human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, downed power lines, negligently discarded cigarettes and intentional acts of arson. The remaining 10 percent are started by lightning or lava.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety provides recommendations for reducing the likelihood of your home catching fire, including noncombustible siding, decking and roofing materials; covered vents; and fences not connected directly to the house. In addition, combustible structures in the yard such as playground equipment should be at least 30 feet away from the house and vegetation 100 feet away.

But given weather, climate, and population trends, more than individual planning and risk transfer through insurance will be required to head off wildfire risk and bounce back from events. Innovation and a resilience mindset on the part of governments, businesses, homeowners, and communities will need to take hold.

Want to learn more about wildfire mitigation and resilience? Register for “Wildfire Ready: How Do You Prepare Your Home and Finances for Wildfires?” on May 20 at 10 a.m. (PT)

Man-made and Natural Hazards Both Demand
a Resilience Mindset

This weekend’s ransomware attack that forced the closure of the largest U.S. fuel pipeline provides another powerful illustration of the need for a resilience mindset that applies to more than just natural catastrophes.

Colonial Pipeline Co. operates a 5,500-mile system that transports fuel from refineries in the Gulf of Mexico to the New York metropolitan area. It said it learned Friday that it was the victim of the attack and “took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations.”

Individually, the event demonstrates the threat cybercriminals pose to the aging energy infrastructure that keeps the nation moving. More frighteningly, though, it is yet another example of how vulnerable the complex, interconnected global supply chain is to disruptions of all kinds – a message that isn’t lost on risk managers and insurers.

Last year, a ransomware attack moved from a natural-gas company’s networks into the control systems at a compression facility, halting operations for two days, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) alert

The DHS described the attack on an unnamed pipeline operator that halted operations for two days.  Although staff didn’t lose control of operations, the alert said the company didn’t have a plan in place for responding to a cyberattack.

“This incident is just the latest example of the risk ransomware and other cyber threats can pose to industrial control systems, and of the importance of implementing cybersecurity measures to guard against this risk,” a CISA spokesperson said at the time.

Not just energy companies

It isn’t only energy and industrial companies that need to be paying attention. According to cyber security firm VMware, attacks against the global financial sector increased 238 percent from the beginning of February 2020 to the end of April, with some 80 percent of institutions reporting an increase in attacks.

“Cyber is an existential issue for financial institutions, which is why they invest heavily in cyber security,” says Thomas Kang, Head of Cyber, Tech and Media, North America at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS). “However, with such potentially high rewards, cybercriminals will also invest time and money into attacking them.”

He pointed to two malware campaigns – known as Carbanak and Cobalt – that targeted over 100 financial institutions in more than 40 countries over five years, stealing over $1 billion.

An ACGS report shows technical failures and human error are the most frequent generators of cyber claims, but the financial impact of these is limited:

“Losses resulting from the external manipulation of computers, such as distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) or phishing and malware/ ransomware campaigns, account for the significant majority of the value of claims analyzed across all industry sectors (not just involving financial services companies).”

According to the report, regulators have turned their attention to cyber resilience and business continuity.

“Following a number of major outages at banks and payment processing companies, regulators have begun drafting business continuity requirements in a bid to bolster resilience.”

Not just cyber

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world a lot of lessons, not the least of which is how vulnerable the global supply chain – from toilet paper to semiconductors – is to unexpected disruptions. Demand for chlorine increased during 2020 as more people used their pools while stuck at home under social distancing orders and homeowners also began building pools at a faster rate, adding to the additional demand. Such disruptions can ripple through the economy in different directions.

Business interruption claims and litigation have been a significant feature of the pandemic for property and casualty insurers.

When the container ship Ever Given got wedged in the Suez canal – one of the most important arteries in global trade – freight traffic was completely blocked for six days. Even as movement resumed, terminals experienced congestion and the severe drop in vessel arrival and container discharge in major terminals aggravated existing shortages of empty containers available for exports. The ship’s owners and the Egyptian government remain locked in negotiations over compensation for the disruption, and the ship is still impounded.

Spurred in part by this event, the Japanese shipping community is considering alternative freight routes to Europe, both reliant on Russia: the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Northern Sea Route. Neither option is devoid of risks.

In an increasingly interconnected world, there is no bright line distinguishing man-made from natural disasters. After all, the Ever Given grounding was caused, at least in part, by a sandstorm. April’s power and water disruptions that left dozens of Texans dead and could end up being the costliest disaster in state history were initiated by a severe winter storm.

A resilience mindset focused on pre-emptive mitigation and rapid recovery is called for in both cases. There is no “either/or.”

White House, FEMA Resilience Officials
Speak at Triple-I Event

Caitlin Durkovich, special assistant to President Biden and White House National Security Council senior director of resilience and response, discussed the administration’s climate and resilience priorities at Triple-I’s National Town Hall (highlights video below. Click here to view full event).

She and Paul Huang, acting associate administrator of resilience for the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), met virtually with Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan and Michel Léonard, Triple-I vice president and senior economist.

“Resilience is a very important theme of this administration and of the priorities we have,” Durkovich said, elaborating that this includes preparation for and response to both natural and man-made events. The objective is to learn from every incident “so we don’t just bounce back but bounce forward.”

Referring to the administration’s infrastructure and clean-energy goals, she said, “We’re anticipating what the  world is going to look like 20 to 30 years from now, given the life span of our built infrastructure.”

Durkovich noted that there are several longstanding hazard-mitigation and hazard-response programs spread across multiple agencies.

“I think we have the opportunity to bring at least the federal community together to look at some of those programs and think about how we can modernize them, just like we’re modernizing infrastructure,” she said.

This will help communities “build back better” after an event.

But it’s going to take more than federal government to bring this about. Communities will have to be very involved, she said, adding, “It’s not just state and local planners, but it’s infrastructure owners and operators, it’s the finance side of the house, who are needed to work through some of these hard challenges before, so after an emergency, when money becomes available, you’re ready to make some significant changes.”

And as we invest in electrified transportation infrastructure, she said, “we have to make sure that infrastructure is resilient to power outages, to storms, and when we’re in the middle of a mass evacuation it can accommodate hundreds of thousands of people.”

Despite having to think about everything that could go wrong (what she described as “healthy paranoia”), Durkovich was upbeat: “It’s amazing to be having these conversations about designing resilience in at the beginning, instead of bolting it on at the end.”

FEMA’s Paul Huang echoed Durkovich’s enthusiasm for a “whole of government” and “whole of community” approach to resilience.

“We’re going to have to rethink how we do things,” he said.  “We have programs that have always been around. They’re good programs, but it’s not enough.  We have to think bigger and more creatively.”

Huang talked about a new FEMA program, Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC), that support states, local communities, tribes and territories in developing hazard-mitigation projects, reducing the risks they face from natural disasters.  “We’re hoping to see new ideas from industry, working with local and state government, to say, ‘This is something we can try together in partnership to get a bigger bang for our buck.’ “

Flood: Beyond Risk Transfer

Half a billion people worldwide are affected by floods annually, and about 90 percent of all U.S. natural disasters involve flooding. The human and economic tolls are massive, and until recently insuring these risks and helping communities recover fell almost entirely on government programs. 

Improved data, analysis, and modeling have helped drive private-sector interest in flood-risk transfer and mitigation. But despite growing private involvement, many experts consider the current system unsustainable. A resilience mindset is required, and that demands more than insurance products.

A new Triple-I paper analyzes the current state of flood risk and resilience and discusses how governments, corporations, academia, and others are rising to the challenges and seizing the opportunities.

“New products alone will not close the protection gap,” says Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan. “Risk transfer is just one tool in the resilience toolkit. Our understanding of loss trends and expertise in assessing and quantifying risk must be joined at the hip to technology, public policy and finance, and science. We need to partner with communities and businesses at every level to promote a broad resilience mindset focused on pre-emptive mitigation and rapid recovery.”

The Triple-I paper describes how this is happening. Tapping its own resources and the expertise of its insurance and risk-management network, Triple-I is pleased to bring you this analysis of the current state of flood risk and resilience.

Partnering to Improve Flood Resilience

Improved access to data, analytical tools, and sophisticated modeling capabilities has turned flood insurance from a virtually untouchable risk for insurers to an area of increasing business opportunity. These developments also have put the pieces in place for powerful collaborations between corporations, governments, and nonprofits to drive flood resilience for communities and businesses.

Stormwater management is one example. Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan recently participated in a panel at the P3 Water Summit to discuss flooding and water quality challenges and how insurers, municipalities, rating agencies, and other entities are incorporating flood and climate risks into their businesses.

The view from the middle

“Insurance is in the middle of all of this,” Kevelighan said, referring to three major global crises the moderator had mentioned – biodiversity loss, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic – “and I might add geopolitical risk and social unrest, as well as disruption due to technology and innovation. Triple-I is here to inform all those discussions.”

Climate risk, he said, “is certainly on the forefront of all the discussions we’re having right now, in terms of the larger disruption continuum.”

For decades, he noted, the industry has been looking for ways not just to help customers recover from natural catastrophes but to get out in front of the risks and promote methods to make them more resilient.

Flooding is a particularly pressing risk, Kevelighan noted, because “every year you’ve got about a half billion people who are impacted by floods. About 90 percent of all U.S. natural catastrophes involve some form of flooding. This is a critical part of the catastrophe cycle – and one that is significantly underinsured.”

Flood insurance and recovery assistance historically have fallen to federal and state government to manage. But even as improved data and other capabilities have made writing the coverage an increasingly attractive opportunity for insurers, Kevelighan said, it also has become clear that risk transfer through insurance isn’t enough to close the “protection gap.”  Public-private partnerships and other approaches are essential.

Bringing it all together

Richard Seline, managing director of Resilient H2O Partners and co-founder of the Resilience Innovation Hub, talked about his companies’ efforts to “introduce emerging technologies, existing equipment, put it together with public and private interests” to promote activities and behaviors supportive of resilience.

“The Innovation Hub is intended to bring together the best ideas, the best experience, the best capital, and network it more efficiently and effectively,” Seline said. “We’re in lots of discussions with engineering firms, architecture firms, a lot of private equity firms. I didn’t know until a year ago that the Nature Conservancy has its own venture fund! Those are the types of folks we’re pulling together.”

Like Kevelighan, Seline pointed to the importance of data in making these collaborations possible: “Unless we have the data available to do the cost-benefit analysis and the return on investment, it’s all theoretical.”

Thanks to partnerships between organizations like Triple-I and Resilient H2O, he said, it’s now possible to marry hydrological data to financial and economic risk models to better inform investment planning and decision making.

Ready to ‘take off’

Stacey Mawson, director at Fitch Ratings, said the environment now seems ripe for stormwater public-private partnerships to “take off.”

“Over the past couple of years we’ve been seeing more projects coming to us for ratings,” she said. These have included water transport, flood mitigation, privatization of utilities because they need additional investment. “We’re seeing an increased focus on water in all its aspects.”

Companies that issue bonds and other forms of debt rely on rating agencies’ assessments of their creditworthiness to keep their borrowing costs low. A bad rating may cause bond buyers to demand a higher interest rate in return for the greater risk such a rating implies.

Rating agencies like Fitch can play a strong role in advancing environmental and social objectives by incorporating climate and social risks into their rating processes. Mawson discussed Fitch’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) scores and suggested that, over time, if bond-issuing entities aren’t paying sufficient attention to such considerations it could become a rating issue.

For more information and insight on flood risk, check out our new research paper, Flood: Beyond Risk Transfer.

Climate Risk Is Not a New Priority for Insurers

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s pledge to tackle climate change and warning about the economic consequences of failure to act underscore the fact that climate is no longer “merely” an ecological and humanitarian issue – real money is involved.

As long as climate was perceived as a pet project of academics and celebrity activists, driving behavioral change – particularly on the part of industries with billions invested in carbon-intensive technologies and processes – was going to be an uphill effort. But the Titanic has begun to turn, and no industry is better positioned than insurance to help right its course. Insurers are no strangers to climate-related risk – they’ve had a financial stake in it for decades.

Let’s look at the facts:

Global insured weather-related property losses have outpaced inflation by about 7 percent since 1950. Of the $1.7 trillion of global insured property loss reported since 1990, a third is from tropical cyclones, according to Aon data. Nine of the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history have occurred since 2004, and 2017, 2018, and 2019 represent the largest back-to-back-to-back insured property loss years in U.S. history.

Determining how much such losses are driven by climate versus other factors is complicated, and that’s part of the point.

“I know some have argued that this is a reason for us to move slowly,” Yellen said. “The thinking goes that because we know so little about climate risk, let’s be tentative in our actions—or even do nothing at all.  This is completely wrong in my view.  This is a major problem and it needs to be tackled now.”

Understanding the complexities of weather, climate, demographics, and other factors that contribute to loss trends requires data, analytical tools, and sophisticated modeling capabilities. Insurers invest heavily in these and other resources to be able to assess and price risk accurately. As a result, they’re uniquely well positioned to inform the conversation, drive action, and present solutions. 

And they’re leading by example.

Chubb Chairman and CEO Evan G. Greenberg is among the industry leaders who has been on the forefront of communicating about climate risk. When Chubb announced that it will not make new debt or equity investments in companies that generate more than 30 percent of revenues from coal mining or coal energy production, Greenberg said, “Making the transition to a low-carbon economy involves planning and action by policymakers, investors, businesses and citizens alike. The policy we are implementing today reflects Chubb’s commitment to do our part as a steward of the Earth.”

Swiss Re last month announced a similarly ambitious carbon reduction target of 35 percent by 2025 for its investment portfolio. Zurich Insurance Group last year announced the launch of its Climate Change Resilience Services to help businesses better prepare for current and future risks associated with climate. Aon annually publishes its Weather, Climate and Catastrophe Insight reports.

These are just a few examples of how the insurance industry already is recognizing its stake in addressing climate change and providing resources to help others attack the problem.  

Polar Vortex,
Convective Storms
Keep Driving Losses

Insured losses from March storms in the United States are likely to surpass $1 billion, Aon said in its monthly Global Catastrophe Recap.

Aon said multiple outbreaks – featuring tornadoes, hail, snow, and flooding – were to blame.  The most notable included severe weather across the Central and Southern United States, with 122 tornadoes touching down during the month – the most since 2017. Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee experienced the most damage.

This followed record-setting winter weather-related insured losses in February, following a prolonged Polar Vortex event, in which Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas were among the hardest-hit states.

“The Polar Vortex generated record-breaking cold temperatures which extended as far south as the U.S./Mexico border,” Aon said in its February report. “Concurrently, a series of low-pressure systems produced rounds of hazardous snow, sleet, freezing rain, ice, and severe thunderstorms with impacts spanning from Washington state to the Mid-Atlantic.”

Texas was hard hit by the winter weather, which left dozens dead, millions without power, and nearly 15 million with water issues and could wind up being the costliest disaster in state history. Disaster-modeling firm AIR Worldwide says insured losses “appear likely to exceed $10 billion.”

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has been widely criticized for failing to require power facilities to be winterized after the last major storm that caused outages in 2011, thus contributing to damage incurred during the more recent one. Last week, the Cincinnati Insurance Company, headquartered in Ohio, filed suit asking a federal court for a declaratory judgment that would allow the insurer to decline paying damages in bodily injury or property damage lawsuits where ERCOT is found to be liable.

If the federal court doesn’t grant the declaratory judgment, Cincinnati Insurance would likely have to cover ERCOT under its current policy contract.

In February and into March, multiple rounds of heavy rainfall and severe weather generated flooding across parts of the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys. Parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia were most affected.

“Impacts were compounded by localized severe weather, including large hail, straight-line winds, and isolated tornadoes,” Aon reported. “Total economic losses were estimated to approach USD 100 million.”

A large portion of the residential flood damage was expected to be uninsured due to low National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) coverage.

Severe weather activity in the South continues in April. A cluster of storms swept across the region over the weekend, leaving one person dead in Louisiana, toppling trees and power lines in Mississippi, dropping baseball-sized hail in Alabama, and leveling buildings in the Florida Panhandle.

FEMA’s New Approach
to Flood Risk Will Make Insurance Program Fairer

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) last week unveiled details of Risk Rating 2.0 – its plan to modernize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to make it fairer and more sustainable.

The changes measuring flood danger differently – gauging properties’ specific risks and replacement costs, rather than simply whether they sit in a FEMA-designated “flood zone.”  FEMA officials said this would end a system in which low-value homes effectively subsidize insurance for high-value homes.

Despite concerns that Risk Rating 2.0 would lead to huge premium increases, NFIP Senior Executive David Maurstad said 23 percent of policyholders will see “immediate decreases,” 66 percent will see an “average of zero to $10 a month” in additional premiums, and 11% will pay higher bills, some more than $20 a month.

NFIP owes the U.S. Treasury $20.5 billion after a series of hurricanes that resulted in claims costs greater than the premiums FEMA received.

“Our current system is just fundamentally not working for us anymore,” Maurstad said, adding that the new approach would result in a “more equitable, accurate and individualized NFIP.”

Lawmakers in coastal states like Florida worried about the sudden impact of higher rates – more accurately reflecting the greater flood risk in those areas – on their constituents.  FEMA has ameliorated those concerns by making new rates apply only to new policies when the program takes effect in October 2021. Homeowners and businesses with existing flood policies won’t see a rate change until April 2022.

FEMA said high-value homes in high-risk areas would experience seeing the largest increases. FEMA expects their rate increases would take effect over a 10-15 year “glide path” as they continue to be protected by an 18 percent annual cap on premium increases that is written into law.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) quickly weighed in on the plan.

“The system we’ve used to calculate flood risk, and in turn insurance policy premiums, no longer holds water,” said Shana Udvardy, a UCS climate resilience analyst. “Outdated maps have left homeowners ill-prepared for possible disasters. Risk Rating 2.0 could go a long way in helping homeowners better understand their risk, ensuring they can make informed decisions to protect themselves and their property.”

“It is great to see that FEMA is moving forward with Risk Rating 2.0, which is so badly needed,” said Matthew Eby, executive director of the First Street Foundation, a climate and technology non-profit that has done its own extensive flood-mapping. A recent First Street analysis found the United States to be woefully underprepared for damaging floods.

It identified “around 1.7 times the number of properties as having substantial risk,” compared with FEMA’s flood zone 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.”