In the U.K. case, Schupp writes, “the fundamental theme running through the insurers’ defense was that the policies only covered localized outbreaks, not global pandemics.”
“More to the point for U.S. property/casualty insurers,” says Michael Menapace, a professor of insurance law at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a Triple-I non-resident scholar, the U.K. case involved disease coverage – “an affirmative coverage not included in most U.S. commercial property policies.”
U.S. business interruption disputes so far have turned on two key policy features:
U.S. business-interruption coverage almost always requires property damage to trigger a payout.
Nearly all U.S. COVID-19-related court cases have involved policies that specifically exclude viruses.
“The U.K. court did not address either the question of property damage or the applicability of a virus exclusion,” Schupp writes.
As Menapace put it in a recent blog post about U.S. business-interruption cases, “Policy language controls whether COVID-19 interruptions are covered…. The threshold issue [for U.S. insurers] will be whether the insureds can prove their business losses are caused by ‘physical damage to property’.”
September is National Preparedness Month, and this years’ theme of “Disasters Don’t Wait. Make Your Plan Today” could not be more timely as many areas of the country experience record-breaking wildfires and storms.
The webinar showcased two small businesses’ stories of preparation and recovery from disaster. The webinar also covered 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.
Alex Contreras, Director of the Office of Preparedness, Communication and Coordination in the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance (ODA), was the first speaker. The SBA offers low-interest disaster loans to businesses of all sizes, as well as to homeowners and renters. These loans are the primary source of federal assistance to help private property owners pay for disaster losses not covered by insurance. Borrowers are required to obtain and maintain appropriate insurance as a condition of most loans.
The SBA can also fund disaster mitigation efforts, such as installing fire-rated roofs, elevating structures to protect from flooding or relocating out of flood zones.
Janice Jucker, co-owner at Three Brothers Bakery in Houston, TX is the 2018 Phoenix Award Winner for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery. After Hurricane Harvey, the bakery had five feet of water. Thanks to a business recovery plan, the business was fully operational after six weeks.
Part of an effective recovery plan is building a recovery team that includes a restoration company (find one now, don’t wait) an accountant, a contractor, an SBA loan officer and an insurance agent. Another important recovery team member is your local lawmaker – know who they are and make sure they know you, regardless of whether you agree with their politics. They can play a key part in making sure you get what you need to recover from a disaster.
Gail Moraton, business resiliency manager at IBHS, talked about the free business continuity planning tool called OFB-EZ (Open for Business E-Z) available from the IBHS. The first step to planning is to know your risk – both the likelihood of each type of disaster for your location and the amount of damage it could cause your business. Another step is having an up-to-date list of all your employees, vendors and other important contacts. A training exercise is also included with the planning tool.
Alison Bishop, internal operations manager at Spry Health Inc., talked about her company’s use of OFB-EZ. “It takes an overwhelming concept and makes it accessible and achievable,” she said.
Loretta Worters – vice president, media relations at Triple-I, went over different business insurance coverages that are available and pointed out that having the right coverage is a crucial part of disaster recovery, as well as an essential element of an overall business plan.
Like the other speakers, Ms. Worters said having a thorough inventory of all your business assets is of paramount importance. She listed different types of business policies that are available, including: property, business income interruption, extra expense, flood and civil authority. Separate coverage is also available for items that are frequently damaged in a storm, such as fences and awnings.
Click here to listen to a recording of the webinar, which offers many more useful tips for seeing your business through a disaster.
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.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), which regulates insurers in the United Kingdom, has indicated that it doesn’t believe COVID-19-related losses trigger most business insurance policies because such policies typically require a direct connection between financial loss and physical damage to the insured property.
Think fire, flood, wind, or earthquake damage.
The FCA is now litigating a test case involving policies of eight insurers that don’t require property damage to trigger coverage (Hear a three-minute explainer from the Centers for Better Insurance).
Is this case relevant to U.S. property/casualty insurers? It depends on whom you ask.
The FCA is looking at 17 policy wordings from the eight insurers and asking whether COVID-19 triggers a payout. Based on other policies the regulator has studied, the Financial Times reports, the court’s ruling are “expected to apply to nearly 50 insurers, who sold coverage to 370,000 customers.”
Senior executives from specialist insurance and reinsurance underwriter Hiscox Group warned that the FCA’s eventual findings could drive additional COVID-19 losses to its reinsurance book, Artemis reports.
Tom Baker – an expert in insurance law and policy at the University of Pennsylvania – called the U.K. case a “one-way ratchet” for U.S. insurers.
“If the carriers lose or end up having a lot of coverage, that’s going to be bad for them here” in the United States, Baker said. “I think if the carriers win, the insurance policies [in the U.K.] are really different. They tend to be named-peril, rather than all-risks policies. I think it will be easy to distinguish them.”
Jason Schupp, founder and managing member of Centers for Better Insurance, disagrees that an adverse ruling for U.K. insurers will have much of an effect on their U.S. counterparts.
“In Europe, [FCA] authorization to provide miscellaneous financial loss insurance allows an insurance company to write business interruption insurance that does not require evidence of property damage” to pay a claim, Schupp says. Even though the United Kingdom is no longer part of the European Union, Schupp says, “U.K. law itself recognizes the miscellaneous financial loss class of insurance.”
What does this mean for pandemic business interruption coverage in the United States? Not much, according to Schupp.
“The outcome of the U.K. litigation is unlikely to be relevant to the dozens – or perhaps hundreds – of business interruption lawsuits making their way through U.S. courts, where the property damage question is front and center,” Schupp says.
He goes on to say that proposals coming out of Europe or the U.K. for pandemic insurance going forward – such as a Lloyd’s framework – contemplate non-property-damage business interruption insurance solutions…. These proposals do not appear compatible with the current U.S. insurance regulatory system.”
A ruling by the FCA is expected in mid-September. Last week, the regulatory body said that, while the case doesn’t address how any resulting claims payments would be calculated, “We may intervene and take further actions where firms do not appear to be meeting our expectations and treating their customers fairly.”
As I’ve written previously, the question of whether business interruption provisions in commercial property insurance apply to COVID-19-related losses has become a major topic of debate during this pandemic. Suits have been filed seeking to establish that policyholders are entitled to coverage for such losses – even when losses associated with infectious disease are specifically excluded in the policy language.
This debate has been muddied in some circles by people confusing business interruption coverage with event cancellation insurance.
Citing the fact that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) had its claim paid when it cancelled its annual men’s basketball tournament, as did the All England Lawn Tennis Association when it canceled its Wimbledon event, some wonder why many other businesses’ claims are being rejected.
While superficially similar, these claims couldn’t be more different from the business interruption cases currently being litigated.
Business Interruption: Physical Damage Required
Property insurance covers physical loss or damage to an insured’s property. The business interruption provisions of commercial property policies typically require a direct relationship between a physical loss or damage and the resulting lost income. The Insurance Services Office (ISO) form for commercial property coverage – the basis of many policies – specifies that any covered loss due to “necessary suspension” of operations must be caused by “direct physical loss of or damage to property at premises which are described in the Declarations.”
This is a critical point, as most business losses related to COVID-19 are due to employees and customers remaining absent, supply chain disruptions, and other factors – not to physical damage.
“A property policy may, for example, pay to repair the damage caused by a fire and may cover the loss of business during the reconstruction period,” writes Michael Menapace, a professor of insurance law at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a Triple-I Non-Resident Scholar. “But here’s the rub. Are the business interruptions related to COVID-19 caused by physical damage to property?”
Insurers say no, arguing that “damage to property” requires structural alteration like one would find when, say, a fire destroys the interior of a building or wind damages windows. The virus leaves no visible imprint. Even if remediation is needed – like cleaning mold from metal surfaces – insurers cite cases in which judges have ruled there’s no physical damage from mold if the mold can be cleaned off.
Add to this the fact that most policies exclude coverage for losses related to infectious diseases and it’s hard to imagine U.S. courts finding in favor of the plaintiffs – particularly when pandemic insurance existed well before COVID-19 and was largely ignored by business owners and risk managers.
Event Cancellation Insurance
COVID-19 has led to the cancellation of events from weddings to business conferences to the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Individuals and businesses buy event cancellation insurance against losses resulting from a cancellation due to circumstances beyond their control, including:
Weather or other natural events like hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, and
Human-caused events such as labor strikes and acts of terrorism.
If a policy is an “all-cause” or otherwise unlimited policy, it could cover cancellations due to COVID-19, particularly if purchased before 2020.
GlobalData said the event still faces a net loss. The total Wimbledon revenue loss is estimated at around £250 million (US$328 million).
The NCAA had a policy for its “March Madness” tournament that had to be cancelled. Its event cancellation policy covered just $270 million, even though the tournament generates more than $800 million a year. The organization reportedly was better prepared for a cancellation several years ago, when it built up savings of nearly $500 million to help mitigate the financial impact of a lost tournament.
“Then, in 2015, new leadership decided to spend more than $400 million of those savings without increasing the NCAA’s insurance coverage by following a questionable theory about the risk of saving that much money,” the Washington Post reports, citing former NCAA employees.
The availability of such coverage without exclusions for infectious disease may be limited or even more expensive in the wake of the current pandemic.
Underwriters routinely receive requests to add additional insureds to policies. But failure to add insureds correctly can open up insurers to potentially huge losses.
Companies typically need to add additional insureds to allow them to fulfill their obligations with their contractual partners. The requests are commonly associated with coverage for the marine and energy business, but construction and other industries often need to add insureds as well. Those requests can involve commercial general liability, excess and umbrella and other liability policies.
Maritime legal expert Harold “Hal” K. Watson recently conducted an interactive educational webinar on the proper addition of insureds for the American Institute of Marine Underwriters (AIMU). Watson, a partner at Chaffe McCall LLP in Houston, is a former president of the Maritime Law Association of the U.S. and an internationally renowned authority in marine and energy insurance.
Using detailed examples from actual cases — including the Deepwater Horizon disaster — Watson illustrated how policy language surrounding additional insureds can cause claims to go wrong. He offered the audience of underwriters, brokers and claims adjusters practical suggestions for writing policy language in specific ways to prevent problems.
Watson explained how arguably ambiguous policy language became a significant factor in Deepwater Horizon, the offshore drilling rig that in April 2010 blew out, resulting in an explosion that killed 11 crew members and caused billions of dollars in pollution and environmental damage in the Gulf of Mexico. Transocean owned the drilling rig, but it was under contract to BP. Watson noted that the contract between the two companies required Transocean to name BP as an additional insured for some purposes. But there was uncertainty whether or not the insurance policy incorporated the limitations of the drilling contract.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit initially held that the insurance policy did not incorporate the limitations in the contract, but then certified the case to the Texas Supreme Court since Texas law applied. The Texas Supreme Court finally ruled that the insurance policy did incorporate the limitations, but if the Fifth Circuit’s original ruling had stood, BP would have been entitled to all of Transocean’s insurance coverage limits.
Watson explained how wording can be used to avoid situations that essentially give away an insured’s coverage. He also discussed other areas involving risks and exposures including:
The distinction and nuances between indemnity clauses and insurance policies.
The need for caution when providing broad coverage for additional insureds.
How additional insureds come into play in umbrella and excess liability policies, including specialized maritime policies.
The effect of anti-indemnity statutes pertaining to oil and gas wells in Texas and Louisiana
AIMU has seen growing interest in its educational offerings as it pivots from live to virtual events. According to AIMU President John Miklus, there were nearly 100 attendees at the “Additional Insureds” webinar and a similar number at another recent webinar on yacht insurance fundamentals.
AIMU’s primary focus is on education of its members and the insurance community at large and continues to deliver its programs using innovative methods. Click here for more information on upcoming classes.
As states struggle to identify the best ways to reopen their economies, agencies, and schools from the coronavirus-related lockdown, legislatures have been moving forward legislation to protect them and the people they employ.
Virginia Approves Worker Health & Safety Standard
The Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) – the state’s version of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – will enforce a standard that mandates and, in some instances, exceeds guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and OSHA, PropertyCasualty360.com reports.
The standard protects employees who raise reasonable concerns about infection control to print, online, social, or other media. It covers most private employers in Virginia, as well as all state and local employees.
The standard also requires building and facility owners to report positive COVID-19 tests to employer tenants. It exempts private and public institutions of higher education with reopening plans certified by the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) and public-school divisions that submit reopening plans to the Virginia Department of Education. No such exemptions are provided to private elementary and secondary schools.
In addition to CDC and OSHA guidelines, the standard requires employers to:
Provide flexible sick-leave policies, telework, and staggered shifts when feasible;
Provide handwashing stations and hand sanitizer when feasible;
Assess risk levels of employers and suppliers before entry;
Notify the Virginia Department of Health of positive COVID-19 tests;
Notify VOSH of three or more positive COVID-19 tests within a two-week period;
Assess hazard levels of all job tasks;
Provide COVID-19 training of all employees within 30 days (except for low-hazard places of employment);
Prepare infectious disease preparedness and response plans within 60 days;
Post or present agency-prepared COVID-19 information to all employees; and
Maintain air handling systems in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards.
Special Legislative Session for Tennessee Liability Bill
Weeks after Tennessee’s two legislative chambers failed to come to an agreement on legislation surrounding civil liability for coronavirus, Gov. Bill Lee called the state’s General Assembly to return next week for a special session, The Tennessean reports.
Lee issued an order asking members of the legislature to return to Nashville at 4 p.m. on Aug. 10 to take up the matter, which would extend broad immunity to businesses, schools, and other entities against COVID-19-related lawsuits.
The General Assembly also is expected to take up two other bills it failed to pass before adjourning in June. One would expand medical professionals’ ability to offer telehealth services and encourage insurers to cover those costs. The other would increase penalties for protesters camping and engaging in vandalism at the Capitol. A group of protesters has remained across the street from the Capitol for more than 50 days, resulting in the arrest of some for trespassing and writing messages in chalk.
Nevada Senators Advance Liability Shield Measure
State senators in Nevada, by an overwhelming majority, advanced legislation that would extend COVID-19 liability protections to businesses, nonprofits, schools, and governmental agencies and outlining several measures intended to protect hospitality workers, The Las Vegas Sun reports.
The legislation would extend COVID-19 liability protections to many entities that have “substantially complied with controlling health standards.” Provisions of the bill would sunset either upon the termination of the current state of emergency or in July 2023.
The measure wouldn’t extend to most private health care providers.
“Unease with the bill’s focus on the tourism and gaming industry crossed party lines,” the Sun writes. “Sen. Marcia Washington, D-North Las Vegas, said she was concerned why the bill singled out hospitality workers: ‘I’m here to represent, as far as I’m concerned, everybody, all the workers in the state of Nevada,’ Washington said.”
Marie Neisess, president of the Clark County Education Association, said the bill did nothing to help teachers going back into the classroom this year.
“Even with the best safety measures in place, educators and students will still be at risk,” Neisses said. Putting a bill in place that protects the employer rather than the employee is unacceptable.”
The bill now advances to the Senate floor for final action as lawmakers continue to meet in special session.
“Rebuttable Presumption” for Essential Workers Goes to N.J. Governor
New Jersey may become the next state to enact a law presuming that essential workers who acquire COVID-19 did so on the job, Business Insurance reports.
Lawmakers in the New Jersey Assembly and Senate on Thursday passed S.B. 2380 with a 42-27 vote in the Assembly and a 27-12 vote in the Senate. The bill, introduced in early May, would create a rebuttable presumption for essential workers seeking workers compensation for acquiring COVID-19 on the job during a declared state of emergency.
The bill identifies essential employees as those whose duties are considered essential during an emergency response and recovery operation; public or private sector employees whose duties are essential to the public’s health, safety, and welfare; emergency responders and workers at health-care facilities and those performing jobs that support a health-care facility, such as laundry, research, and hospital food service.
The bill moves to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk. If signed into law, the legislation would take effect immediately and be retroactive to March 9. According to Business Insurance, a spokeswoman for Gov. Murphy declined to comment on whether he intended to sign the legislation.
The shipping industry has largely proved resilient to the coronavirus outbreak, and insurance claims related to risks of the sea could be reduced as fewer vessels venture out, insurer Allianz reports in its Safety and Shipping Review 2020.
However, new challenges have emerged that could lead to more claims.
“One of the biggest issues,” Allianz reports, “has been the inability to change crews easily because of pandemic restrictions.”
Crew relief is essential to ensuring the safety and health of seafarers. Fatigued crew members make errors that Allianz says contribute to 75 percent to 96 percent of marine incidents. Damaged goods and containers account for more than one in five shipping claims.
“The pandemic has heightened the risk environment around high-value and temperature-sensitive goods in particular as supply chains have come under pressure, cargo-handling companies have shut down abruptly, and ports operated under restrictions,” Allianz says.
COVID-19 also has made it hard to obtain parts and materials like lubricants that are essential to maintenance and repair. This could make ships and the equipment on board them less safe, potentially leading to groundings or collisions.
Such an outcome could impede or reverse the industry’s steadily improving safety record.
The number of total losses of large ships fell in 2019 to 41, Allianz reported – “the lowest total this century and a close to 70% fall over 10 years.”
The insurer credits improved ship design, technology, regulation, and risk management as contributing to the long-term reduction in losses.
But improved technology can be a two-edged sword as vessels become more reliant on computers and software, making them vulnerable to cyber incursions. The coronavirus outbreak has affected this risk, too, Allianz says, reporting that companies have faced a 400% increase in attempted cyber-attacks since the pandemic began.
With business owners facing the ‘new normal’ of a seven-month wildfire season, compounded by rising temperatures, public safety power shutoffs, COVID-19 and civil unrest – wildfire preparation will be more critical than ever this year.
As outlined in a new Allianz report “Future Fires: Weathering the Fire Storm”, 2019 was a catastrophic year with 46,786 wildfires burning more than 4.6 million acres, leading to the evacuation of over 200,000 people, sustained blackouts, and the declaration of a state of emergency in California. And this year wildfires are already blazing across drought-ridden Western states while the risk of coronavirus has reduced the number of firefighters available in California and is likely to remain well into the fall.
According to Allianz and the Triple-I, business owners should take the following steps to safeguard employees and property from wildfire:
1. Create defensible space around your building or structures
2. Create a Vegetation Maintenance Plan (VMP) to reduce sources of ignition
3. Use noncombustible materials for building signage, avoiding wood, plastic, and vinyl
4. Select exterior wall cladding made of noncombustible siding materials such as concrete and brick
5. Select dual-paned windows with tempered glass, kept closed when wildfire threatens
6. Use noncombustible material when replacing roofs. Homes with wood or shingle roofs are at high risk of being destroyed during a wildfire
7. Inspect vents and clear debris from roofs. Roofs and gutters are particularly vulnerable surfaces, as embers can lodge here and start a fire. Regularly clearing your roof and gutters of debris, installing gutter guards or screens, and blocking off any points of entry on your roof will all help safeguard your home
Finally, don’t forget to update your inventory, business continuity, evacuation, and safety plans.
Business owners should further discuss with their insurance professionals the risks their business’s face as it pertains to wildfire and the need for:
Property Insurance (including the differences between replacement vs. cash value)
Business Interruption (also known as business income) and extra expense insurance
Mitigation solutions and fire protection services available
Precautionary measures that can be taken today to prevent loss tomorrow
“Preparedness is as vital to an organization as business resilience planning,” said Janet Ruiz, Director of Strategic Communications for the Insurance Information Institute. “We recommend business owners review their insurance coverage to ensure they can adequately rebuild their properties as well as protect their business against major disruptions such as wildfire.”
“Future Fires” highlights how a number of innovative technologies are stepping up to meet the challenge of the prevalence of wildfires and the prolonged duration of the wildfire season. One application of fire protection that is currently in use is an environmentally safe biodegradable fire-fighting foam used for pretreatment and suppression around property and building perimeters. When fire is imminent, foam is applied from private fire trucks appointed with state-of-the-art equipment.
The report also cites a Silicon Valley artificial intelligence company that has developed a system that analyzes satellite images every 10 minutes to identify where new wildfires may have broken out. This technology is trained to spot the likely signs of wildfires, and then alert firefighting agencies, who can verify if indeed a fire has broken out. The company hopes to have the system in place by next year’s wildfire season.
“Allianz is committed to helping businesses mitigate extreme catastrophes like wildfires with the most advanced techniques and solutions available,” says Scott H. Steinmetz, P.E., Regional Head of MidCorp at Allianz Risk Consulting. “The 2020 fire season presents unique challenges and complexities that will inherently put our skills to their utmost test. I feel confident, however, that businesses can greatly minimize their losses with advance planning and close communication with their insurance carrier before, and in the unfortunate event that it occurs, during and after a wildfire.”
A natural disaster will strike no matter where you live in the United States. It’s is not a question of if, but when. But if you’re prepared, the damaging impact of a tornado, flood, earthquake or hurricane can be managed.
Alejandro Contreras, Director of Preparedness, Communication and Coordination at SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance, advised that communications planning is key to a post-disaster recovery strategy. A list of frequently updated contacts should include local media outlets, utility companies and emergency responders. You should also sign up for alerts from FEMA and local public health officials.
Make sure your records are stored electronically off-site (in the cloud) and make sure you have financial records, insurance policy declaration pages, and important contacts.
When reviewing insurance coverage, don’t forget to explore flood insurance. Flooding is the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States, causing billions in economic losses each year. About 90 percent of all natural disasters in the U.S involve flooding. And just one inch of water can cause up to $25,000 in damage, said Contreras. Flood insurance is sold as a separate policy by the National Flood Insurance Program and a growing number of private companies.
It’s important for a business to create a culture of preparedness and make sure employees understand their roles by frequently testing their business continuity plans, concluded Contreras.
The SBA offers low interest long-term disaster loans to businesses. Since mid-March, the agency has distributed about $86 billion in loans for coronavirus-related losses. To apply for a loan or to learn about the requirement visit disasterloan.sba.gov.
Loretta Worters, Vice President Media Relations, Triple-I, spoke about being financially prepared for disasters with insurance. To be sure the claims process goes smoothly, take a business inventory listing all assets, she advised. It’s also important to have records of expenses and income.
Worters went over the different types of policies available to businesses and what they usually cover. Property insurance helps protect buildings, equipment, furniture, and fixtures. Business interruption insurance (BI) can help with operating expenses during the period of restoration and includes lost net income (based on financial records), mortgage, rent and lease payments, loan payments, taxes, and employee payroll.
A business may have the option to insure its business property at replacement value or actual cash value, she said, noting the difference is that replacement value coverage can help you replace your property at market prices, whereas actual cash value coverage takes depreciation into account. Replacement value coverage costs more, but it also pays out more in the event of a claim so it’s something business should really consider.
BI is also available for civil authority, such as curfews when businesses have to reduce hours due to government orders.
Utilities service endorsement is available to cover disruption in these services to a business premises.
Worters also noted that, as part of BI, extra expense coverage will cover anything beyond the normal day-to-day operating expenses that is necessary to keep a business solvent, such as renting a temporary place of business while your business is insured or leasing equipment.
In response to an attendee’s question, Worters explained that business income losses are determined based on the business’ profit and the cost of continuing normal operations.
Worters concluded that knowing your risks is an essential element of an overall business plan. While large businesses have risk managers to help make insurance decisions, small-business owners must be their own risk manager but can also get help by consulting with an insurance professional.
Make a recovery plan and test it once a year
Gail Moraton, Business Resiliency Manager, IBHS, cautioned that one out of four businesses that close due to a disaster never reopen, yet 57 percent have no disaster recovery plan. Some small businessowners say they don’t have time or money to come up with a business continuity plan or are in denial that a disaster could wipe them out. Easy-to-use plans and checklists are available from DisasterSafety.org.
Moraton also advised that businessowners get familiar with the likelihood and potential severity of the various risks that could threaten their operations. They range from natural disasters to man-made risks, such as cyber attacks, theft, sabotage, war, and loss of key employees, among many others. Owners also should know their operations and gather information by asking staff to list key functions.
She said employees – the most important asset of any business – should be asked to provide their contact information, emergency contacts, and evacuation destinations.
Businesses need to also have a inventory of their equipment and an understanding of their finances.
Moraton said that once you’ve gathered the key information and have a plan you should update and test that plan every year. Running emergency drills annually will make sure everyone is well prepared in case a real disaster strikes.
Know your hazards
Christopher Cioffi, Commercial Line Engineer, IBHS, provided tips on how to review the hazards in your area by checking on previous years’ severe weather events and reviewing FEMA flood maps. He went over the components of the EZ-PREP plan which includes actions to take before, during and after a disaster.
For example, 72 hours before a hurricane, some of the actions the PREP plan calls for include:
Remove or secure all debris on the property
Review message templates for business’ website, phone recording and employee communications
Take laptops home at the end of each day and confirm they can connect to the business’ server from home