Category Archives: Coastal Property

IBHS Ranks Building Codes as Above-Average Hurricane Season Approaches

Building codes are critical to disaster mitigation, as well as to enabling families, communities, and businesses to bounce back from natural and man-made catastrophes.  The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) “Rating the States” report has become an important resource for comparing the quality of these codes and of states’ enforcement of them.

Published every three years, “Rating the States” evaluates the 18 states along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, all vulnerable to catastrophic hurricanes, based on building code adoption, enforcement, and contractor licensing.

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be another “above-average” one.

“Damage reduction that results from the adoption and enforcement of building codes helps to keep people in their homes and businesses following a natural or manmade disaster, reduces the need for public and private disaster aid, and preserves the built environment,” IBHS writes in the most recent edition of the report. It cites research following Hurricane Charley in 2004 that found code improvements adopted in 1996 in Florida resulted in a 60 percent reduction in residential property damage claims and a 42 percent reduction in cost of claims.

Benefits of strong, uniform, well-enforced statewide codes are diverse and include:

  • Giving residents a sense of security about the safety and soundness of their buildings,
  • Preserving economic resources of a community and reducing post-disaster government spending,
  • Protecting first responders during and after fires and other disaster events,
  • Incorporating new best practices and cost efficiencies, and
  • Reducing solid waste in landfills from homes that are damaged or destroyed during disasters.

In the 2021 report, no state achieved a perfect rating based on the IBHS 100-point scale, though several states received high scores, including:

  • Florida (95 points)
  • Virginia (94 points)
  • South Carolina (92 points) and
  • New Jersey (90 points).

Other states that performed well were Connecticut (89 points), Rhode Island (89 points), North Carolina (88 points), Louisiana (82 points), Massachusetts (78 points), and Maryland (78 points).

The 2021 edition also includes information from the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) to support consumer awareness and response to local building codes in their area.  Inspect2Protect.org offers a free building code look-up tool available to all homeowners.

“With more Americans living in harm’s way, it is even more critical for residents and communities to have the information they need to take action,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan. “2021’s Rating the States report is essential reading for anyone who resides in a hurricane-prone state and wants a definitive assessment of its building codes.”

More information from Triple-I

Hurricane Season: More Than Just Wind and Water

Flood: Beyond Risk Transfer

Modern Building Codes Would Prevent Billions in Catastrophe Losses

California Earthquakes: How Modern Building Codes Are Making Safer, More Resilient Communities

Millions Saved in Japan by Good Engineering and Government Building Codes

Flood Pictures Worth More Than 1,000 Words

One of the benefits of social media is the fact that it reminds you what was on your mind several years earlier. Today I was reminded of the horrific flooding in Ellicott City, Md., that occurred three years ago this week.

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Water rushes through Main Street in Ellicott City, MD, 2018

This event resonated for me because I had friends living there, and I lived in a similarly situated flood-prone town. The images from Ellicott City recalled for me the damage much closer to home, in Bound Brook, NJ, when Tropical Storm Floyd dropped over 13 inches of rain and the Raritan River crested at above 42 feet, inundating the downtown and sparking fires as electrical systems shorted out.  

My little town of Dunellen had dodged a major bullet, I realized as I watched on TV as firefighters in boats responded to the devastation next door.  Our basement, turned temporarily into an indoor swimming pool, seemed a minor inconvenience next to the losses in Bound Brook and elsewhere.

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Firefighters battle a fire in flood-ravaged Bound Brook, NJ, 1999

A few years later, my region would be visited by similarly shocking images in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.

Rollercoaster at Seaside, NJ, after Superstorm Sandy, 2012

We’ve written a lot about flood risk, the flood protection gap, and the need for a resilience mindset to prevent damages and loss wherever possible and help families, businesses, and communities bounce back from unavoidable disasters. But sometimes a few images can persuade more eloquently and effectively than all the words in the world.

Learn More From the Triple-I Blog

Flood: Beyond Risk Transfer

Partnering to Improve Flood Resilience

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

Floods, Freezing, Other Extreme Weather Highlight Need for Planning And Insurance

Study Quantifies Future Climate Change Impact on Flood Losses

Study Supports Case for Flood Mitigation as World Warms

Expanded Triple-I Flood Risk Maps Provide Richer Perspective

If It Can Rain, It Can Flood: Buy Flood Insurance

Ahead of Hurricane Sally’s Rains, Many Lack Flood Insurance

A ‘Sea Change’ in Florida’s View on Climate Risk?

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last week signed two bills that lawmakers say will leave Florida better prepared for future flooding and sea level rise.

The legislature’s approval of these measures and the governor putting his signature on them is one of those moments that seem to mark a real change in awareness of and attitude toward this often-minimized risk. As the Tampa Bay Times points out, “Florida’s legislature for most of the last decade has taken little action and entertained hardly any public discussion about sea level rise.”

The bills, SB 1954 and SB 2514, will — among other things — set aside hundreds of millions of state dollars for flooding infrastructure projects. It requires the Department of Environmental Protection to prepare a flooding and resiliency plan and provides up to $100 million a year to communities that identify areas along the coast and other waterways that are at risk from sea level rise.

“This is a really significant amount of resources,” DeSantis said at a bill signing ceremony in Tarpon Springs. “We’re really putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to protecting the state of Florida, particularly our coastal communities, from the risks of flooding.”

On the leading edge of sea level rise

Florida’s 1,350 miles of coastline is the lifeblood of its tourism industry. Given the fact that much of the state sits at or near sea level on a foundation largely composed of porous limestone, it is particularly vulnerable to the threat of rising seas. Some areas of the state are already seeing flooding on clear days during particularly high tides, according to the Associated Press.

The magnitude of the threat is illustrated by the fact that three Florida-based insurers recently announced that they will not be renewing more than 53,000 property policies as of June – just as the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season begins. The first named storm of the season — Subtropical Storm Ana — formed early on May 22, northeast of Bermuda.

Florida statute Chapter 224 Part III allows insurers to cancel policies when the company would be placed in a hazardous financial situation due to an uptick in claims after hurricane damage or attorney’s fees to defend itself over fraudulent adjuster claims.

Dulce Suarez-Resnick, past president of the Latin American Association of Insurance Agencies, said this kind of widespread cancellation is common after subsequent years of heightened hurricane activity.

“It’s not the end of the world or that they’re bad companies,” Suarez-Resnick said. “It’s that these companies were weakened by prior storms and the bill for the reinsurance got heftier. That’s where we are today.”

As we’ve previously written, many experts consider the current system for managing and mitigating flood risk to be generally unsustainable. Insurers increasingly recognize that risk transfer is not enough and that a resilience mindset is required that demands more than new insurance products. Innovation and technology, along with public-private partnerships, are key components of any resilience strategy that is going to be effective.

Thanks to the insurance industry’s longtime focus on assessing and quantifying catastrophe risk and the rise of sophisticated modeling capabilities, insurers are ideal partners for addressing these evolving risks.

Learn More on the Triple-I Blog:

ESG Is in Insurers’ DNA

Man-Made and Natural Hazards Both Demand a Resilience Mindset

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

Flood: Beyond Risk Transfer

Partnering to Improve Flood Resilience

Climate Risk Is Not a New Priority for Insurers

Above-Average 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Predicted

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

Floods, Freezing, Other Extreme Weather Highlight Need for Planning And Insurance

Study Quantifies Future Climate Change Impact on Flood Losses

Why Do Disasters Keep “Surprising” Us? A Resilience Culture Would Aid Preparation

Community Catastrophe Insurance: Four Models to Boost Resilience

Insurers Are Addressing Climate Risks

Study Supports Case for Flood Mitigation as World Warms

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.

Hurricane Delta Triggered Coral Reef Parametric Insurance

Hurricane Delta last month triggered a 17 million peso (US $800,000) insurance payout to the  Trust for the Integrated Management of the Coastal Zone, Social Development, and Security for the State of Quintana Roo, Mexico. The parametric policy, deployed last year, cost the trust nearly 5 million pesos (US $230,000), covering 150 square kilometers (58 square miles) of coastal ecosystems for the entire 2020 hurricane season.

Recent research illustrates the benefits provided by mangroves, barrier islands, and coral reefs – natural features that frequently fall victim to development – by limiting tropical storm damage, particularly from storm surge. Unlike traditional insurance, which pays for damage if it occurs, parametric insurance pays when specific conditions are met – regardless of whether damage is incurred. Without the need for claims adjustment, policyholders quickly get their benefit and can begin their recovery. In the case of the coral reef coverage, the swift payout will allow for quick damage assessments, debris removal, and initial repairs to be carried out.  

Quintana Roo partnered with hotel owners, the Nature Conservancy, and the National Parks Commission to pilot a conservation strategy involving a parametric policy that pays out if wind speeds greater than 100 knots hit a predefined area.  

Similar approaches could be applied to protecting mangroves, commercial fish stocks that can be harmed by overfishing or habitat loss, or other intrinsically valuable assets that are hard to insure with traditional approaches.  

I.I.I. Media Tour: What You Need to Know and Do
as Hurricane Season Peaks

The Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I), along with Colorado State University’s atmospheric research scientist Dr. Phil Klotzbach, will be conducting a satellite media tour on Tuesday, August 11, to talk about what may lie ahead for the remainder of the hurricane season.

Dr. Phil Klotzbach, Colorado State University

We will be talking with news organizations throughout the U.S. about the steps individuals and businesses in hurricane-prone states need to take to protect their property and possessions with the right type—and amount—of insurance.

The following subject-matter experts will be available for interviews:

  • Sean Kevelighan, CEO, Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I)
  • Dr. Phil Klotzbach, Research Scientist, Colorado State University and a Triple-I Non-Resident Scholar
  • Laura L. Favinger, Chief Administrative Officer, Triple-I
  • Mark Friedlander, Director, Corporate Communications, Triple-I

Damage caused by tropical storms and hurricanes can upend lives for months, and sometimes years. Even in the country’s most vulnerable coastal states, individuals and businesses may underestimate their risk or have insufficient insurance coverage, operating without either an evacuation or a business continuity plan.

As the peak of 2020’s already busy Atlantic hurricane season approaches, it’s time to make sure you’re ready.

Nearly 20 media outlets have signed up to participate, and the following stations will be broadcasting live interviews (times are Eastern Standard):

08-11-2020 08:35 am – 08:45 am ET: WRAZ-FOX TV Raleigh-Durham (27) “WRAL’s 8am News on Fox50” Live
08-11-2020 09:20 am – 09:30 am ET: WPBF-ABC TV West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce (36) “WPBF 9AM NEWS” Live
08-11-2020 09:40 am – 09:50 am ET: WBRC-FOX TV Birmingham (Ann and Tusc) (44) “Good Day Alabama” Live
08-11-2020 10:20 am – 10:30 am ET: WTKR-CBS TV Norfolk-Portsmth-Newpt Nws (42) “Coast Live ” Live

If you’d like to arrange an interview with our experts, please contact MultiVu Media Relations, 800.653.5313 x3

Mangroves and Reefs: Insurance Can Help Protect Our Protectors

Hurricanes and storm-related flooding are responsible for the bulk of damage from disasters in the United States, accounting for annual economic losses of about $54 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  

These losses have been on the rise, due, in large part, to increased coastal development. More, bigger homes, more valuables inside them, more cars and infrastructure – these all can contribute to bigger losses. The CBO estimates that a combination of private insurance for wind damage, federal flood insurance, and federal disaster assistance would cover about 50 percent of losses to the residential sector and 40 percent of  commercial sector losses. 

Recent research illustrates the benefits provided by mangroves, barrier islands, and coral reefs – natural features that frequently fall victim to development – in terms of limiting storm damage. In many places, mangroves are the first line of defense, their aerial roots helping to reduce erosion and dissipate storm surge. A healthy coral reef can reduce up to 97 percent of a wave’s energy before it hits the shore. Reefs — especially those that have been weakened by pollution, disease, overfishing, and ocean acidification — can be damaged by severe storms, reducing the protection they offer for coastal communities. 

In Florida, a recent study found, mangroves alone prevented $1.5 billion in direct flood damages and protected over half a million people during Hurricane Irma in 2017, reducing damages by nearly 25% in counties with mangroves. Another study found that mangroves actively prevent more than $65 billion in property damage and protect over 15 million people every year worldwide.  

A separate study quantified the global flood-prevention benefits of coral reefs at $4.3 billion.  

Such estimates invite debate, but even if these endangered systems provided a fraction of the loss prevention estimated, wouldn’t you think coastal communities and the insurance industry would be investing in protecting them? 

Well, they’re beginning to.  

The Mexican state of Quintana Roo has partnered with hotel owners, the Nature Conservancy, and the National Parks Commission to pilot a conservation strategy that involves coral reef insurance. The insurance component – a one-year parametric policy – pays out if wind speeds in excess of 100 knots hit a predefined area. Unlike traditional insurance, which pays for damage if it occurs, parametric insurance pays claims when specific conditions are met – regardless of whether damage is incurred. Without the need for claims adjustment, policyholders quickly get their benefit and can begin their recovery. In the case of the coral reef coverage, the swift payout will allow for quick damage assessments, debris removal, and initial repairs to be carried out.  

Similar approaches could be applied to protecting mangroves, commercial fish stocks that can be harmed by overfishing or habitat loss, or other intrinsically valuable assets that are hard to insure with traditional approaches.  

The 2018 Hurricane Season: A Retrospective

Hurricane Michael

The 2018 hurricane season officially ended on November 30. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) storm counts for the season were: 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes. Two of these were “major” hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5).

To put that into perspective, the average hurricane season has 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, of which three are major. That makes 2018 a little worse than a “normal” year, and well within NOAA’s predictions before the start of the season on June 1.

Fortunately, these numbers are down from the especially destructive 2017 season, which included the so-called “HIM” storms (Harvey, Irma, and Maria). In 2017 there were 17 named storms, including 10 hurricanes, of which six were major.

But that is little comfort to the people affected by the two major hurricanes, Florence and Michael.

Hurricane Florence: Florence reached Category 4 status on September 10, making landfall on September 14 in North Carolina as a Category 1. Because the storm moved very slowly, Florence dumped at least 30 inches of rain in parts of North Carolina, setting a record in the state for rain from a hurricane.

Catastrophe modelers have estimated that insured losses from Hurricane Florence could range from $2.5 billion to $5.0 billion, excluding National Flood Insurance Program losses. Worryingly, it’s been estimated that somewhere between 70 percent and 85 percent of flood losses are uninsured (get flood insurance, everybody).

Hurricane Michael: Michael became a strong Category 4 storm on October 10 and made landfall shortly afterward in the Florida panhandle. The storm registered wind speeds just under Category 5-level speeds, making Michael perhaps the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Florida panhandle.

Catastrophe modelers estimated that insured losses from Hurricane Michael could range from $6 billion to $10 billion.

(The loss numbers for both hurricanes are subject to change, since losses are still being adjusted and paid out.)

In comparison, the Property Claims Services (PCS) unit of ISO estimates that insured losses from Hurricane Harvey will top $14 billion. PCS estimates that insured losses from Hurricane Irma will be more than $20 billion.

At a high level, the 2018 season was bad – but compared to last year, it could also have been a whole lot worse. Not that that’s any comfort to people who lost homes or family members. Hopefully 2019 will be calmer.

For more information on the 2018 season, see the I.I.I.’s Facts + Statistics: Hurricanes page. And again, get flood insurance.

The “Sand Palace”: A Poster-Child for Resilience

You probably remember the “Sand Palace,” the lone house standing after Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida panhandle in October.

It’s a powerful story about one man’s stand against nature’s destructive power. But the Sand Palace is also a story about insurance.

There are generally two aspects of insurance. One is to pay out claims to make people whole again after a loss. Another is to incentivize behavior that makes those losses less likely to happen. In insurance-speak, we call that “mitigation.”

Consider the Sand Palace in that context. According to an AIR Worldwide analysis, the house was built to be even more resilient than Florida’s already-stringent building codes: reinforced concrete, limited windows, minimal space below the roof to prevent uplift, a first floor 15 feet above ground, and more.

AIR analyzed how this construction fared during the hurricane. The structure’s features reduced wind losses by about 90 percent compared to other homes. Plus, the height of the building significantly reduced any storm surge damage.

This led AIR to conclude that “the Sand Palace is an excellent case study of the impact of mitigating features for use in risk reduction.” Presumably, the house also made an excellent risk for an insurer to cover.

It’s fair to ask, though: at what cost resilience? These kinds of reinforcements can cost tens of thousands of dollars, which can be out of reach for many homeowners.

But that’s probably where insurance can play a role. For example, is there a potential for insurers to offer economic incentives or discounts to homeowners to make their houses resistant to hurricane-force floods and winds? This incentive could be particularly effective in a world where climate change events might cause insurers to raise their premiums to account for higher risks. (That’s why many argue that insurance can play a crucial role in helping to combat the effects of climate change.)

It’s not always easy to say where the intersection between the costs and benefits of mitigation is. That’ll be up to the individual insurer and their insureds. But if done right, mitigation can be a win-win strategy. Insurers don’t have to pay out as much money for losses. Consumers don’t have to pay as much for their insurance. And the world can be made a safer, more resilient place.