Category Archives: Disaster Preparedness

Resilience Town Hall: Looking Back and Ahead

It’s become commonplace to say COVID-19 has “changed everything” and that we’re now figuring out how to live within “the new normal.” But listening to five experts in yesterday’s Resilience Town Hall, I was repeatedly struck by how much 2020 – with its pandemic and record-breaking hurricanes, wildfires, and civil unrest – has uncovered holes in our “old normal” existence that have long needed fixing.

The town hall – the last this year in a series presented by Triple-I and ResilientH2O Partners in partnership with the Resilience Accelerator –  brought these experts together to discuss lessons learned from 2020 and predictions for 2021. 

“Disasters can and will happen,” said Carlos Castillo, chief development officer at Tidal Basin Group, who previously led resilience efforts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “The challenge is for people to recognize that they can happen to them and there are things they can do about them.”

Castillo spoke about FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. In 2020, BRIC made $500 million available on a competitive basis for disaster mitigation programs. While that amount won’t solve the nation’s disaster worries, Castillo said, the idea was to encourage public and private entities to provide matching funds for efforts that would make a real difference.

COVID-19 has made even more federal money available to states and localities and spurred projects that might not be obviously pandemic-related at first glance. Castillo cited one state that is applying for federal funds to fix its roadways to improve access to healthcare facilities. Such improvements would benefit the state and its people not just during a pandemic but in all kinds of emergencies.

This matters because, as Castillo put it, “the pandemic has shown us the importance of our logistics systems. Suddenly, everybody’s competing for masks, gowns, gloves, and respirators. It’s a matter of life or death.”

Public-private partnership

Public-private collaboration was a prominent theme. Rich Sorkin, CEO and cofounder of data and analytics company Jupiter Intelligence, said that only three years ago resilience was “almost the exclusive province of the public sector.”

But by the start of 2020, he said, climate change and its impacts were among the top priorities identified by many commercial entities, “especially in financial services.”

COVID-19 interrupted that immediate focus.

“Executives were distracted dealing with disruptions in their own internal workflows and with changes in the economy,” Sorkin said. Nevertheless, he noted several positive developments, including BRIC and the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment – an effort by insurers, investors, asset managers, analytics firms, and regulators to understand the return on investment in resilience and communicating it to financial markets.

Sorkin said he expects 2021 to be a “breakthrough year for the private sector from a resilience perspective.”

Richard Seline, co-founder of the Resilience Innovation Hub, reinforced Sorkin’s prediction, stating that “the private sector no longer leaves it to the government to be the driver of solutions.”

Behavioral change

Dr. Michel Léonard, CBE, Triple-I vice president and senior economist, pointed out that the insurance industry has continued to provide coverage throughout 2020 on economically viable terms for consumers and businesses.

“One of the reasons we’ve been able to maintain this ecosystem,” he said, “has been our work with regulators and commissioners – and increasingly with consumers, to be able to drive behavioral change.”

Léonard and the other speakers discussed the complexity of bringing about such change – the role of regulations and incentives, the importance of data-driven decision making, and getting consumers to engage in the sort of cost-benefit analysis usually associated with professional risk managers.

 “Whether it’s building codes or pre-emptive risk mitigation, it costs money,” Léonard said, “Whether it’s new construction or public or private, you have to have people ultimately say, ‘It’s worth the money’.”

He added that technology – such as telematics for cars and smart-home systems – is providing data that can support arguments for change.

Eleanor Kitzman, founder of Resolute Underwriters and a past insurance regulator for Texas and South Carolina, described the fragmentation and politicization that can make such change difficult.

 “We’ve got a real lack of alignment – not among interests, because the interests are aligned – but of incentives,” she said. “I’m focused on windstorms at a residential level, but also on the impact it has on communities.  These storms devastate communities, and some of them never come back. And it’s so avoidable.”

Latest “Lightning Round” Highlights Resilience Hack-a-Thon Winners

Last week’s Lightning Round III: Products and Services for Disaster and Risk Mitigation featured presentations by four teams of entrepreneurs who have developed products to boost societal resilience and mitigate natural disaster risks. This was the third time this year that Triple-I and its Resilience Accelerator, ResilientH20 Partners and The Cannon, have connected entrepreneurs with leading insurance innovation specialists and investors.

The first two presentations were by prize-winning teams from 2020’s Hack-for-Resilience competition, which was hosted by Wharton Risk Center and Triple-I’s Resilience Accelerator. The teams presented:  

  • Air.ly:  An app that identifies locales near wildfire zones where individuals afflicted with respiratory issues, or other health complications, can find fresh-air recreation opportunities. It won the prize this year for the Best Overall Hack-for-Resilience.
  • Insura: An app that uses a home’s location and historical loss data to recommend mitigation and maintenance activities that could reduce a homeowner’s insurance premiums.  It won this year’s prize for the Best Application of Insurtech.

Ami Nachiappan, a Junior at New York University, presented on behalf of the four-member Air.ly team.

“For many with sensitive respiratory systems, the wildfires’ smoke has created difficulty breathing and dizziness,” she said, pointing out that this can be the case hundreds of miles from fire locations and long after the blazes have been extinguished.

Air.ly provides “a comprehensive visualization of real-time air-quality data across the U.S.,” as well as well as recommending locations for safe outdoor recreation activities. Existing weather apps that display air-quality information lack “call to action options and cautionary warnings,” and recreation apps like Yelp lack real-time weather and air-quality information.

This fragmentation, Nachiappan said, is what sets Air.ly apart.

Savan Patel, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke for the four-member Insura team. Insura is a third-party “gamification platform” for home improvement products modeled after applications that seek to reduce automobile accidents and claims by influencing driver behavior.

In addition to the hack-a-thon winners, two established businesses – members of the Resilience Innovation Hub “portfolio of disaster risk-mitigation innovation” presented their products:

  • Thermal Gate™ 2.5:  An artificial intelligence-based system that screens and detects individuals who have an elevated body temperature before they enter venues that are open to the public.
  • Mesh++ : A just-in-time WiFi community network that requires no external power or wiring to generate broadband access for first-responders, citizens, and preparedness interests.

All four presentations can be viewed below:

Mitigation Matters – and Hurricane Sally Proved It

 A FORTIFIED roof (left) sustained no damage from Hurricane Sally, the neighboring house (right) did not fare as well.

The FORTIFIED construction certification was developed by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) to protect homes against severe weather. In this post Fred Malik, managing director, FORTIFIED, and Chuck Miccolis, managing director, Commercial – IBHS, talk about how the system held up in Alabama against Hurricane Sally.

In 2004, Hurricane Ivan slammed into Alabama causing widespread devastation. Unwilling to let the same damage happen again, thousands of homeowners and commercial property owners have turned to IBHS’s FORTIFIED program to protect their properties and prepare for the next big storm. 

Last month, the ‘next big storm’ came. Exactly sixteen years since Hurricane Ivan made landfall, Hurricane Sally crawled its way onto the Alabama coast. The Category 2 storm subjected homes and businesses to more than 8 hours of relentless winds. While the aftermath of Sally’s landfall vividly showed too many buildings are still not built as strong as they could be, those in the area built to the FORTIFIED standard provide hope for a more resilient future.

More than 16,000 FORTIFIED properties were put to the test and they demonstrated homes and businesses can be built better. In the days following Sally’s landfall, IBHS conducted field assessments across coastal Alabama to better understand building performance, including dozens of FORTIFIED properties. To date, indications are that more than 90% of the thousands of FORTIFIED buildings had zero to minor cosmetic damage. As a wind standard, FORTIFIED performed to its design.

The evidence is clear driving through Baldwin County, Alabama – home and business owners who had a FORTIFIED Roof didn’t need a blue tarp, didn’t have significant water intrusion through the roof, and businesses were able to re-open as soon as flooding abated and power was restored. Most observed damage was only cosmetic, and disruption was minimized, meaning those who made the decision to strengthen their properties aren’t dealing with the headache of rebuilding. Because FORTIFIED provides layers of protection, it stopped the cascade of damage before it started.

Some FORTIFIED homeowners were even able to offer refuge for neighbors in need.  Having benefited from local incentives to build stronger, some FORTIFIED homeowners in Orange Beach experienced no damage from wind or wind-driven rain, while neighbors were forced to make repairs as well as tear out and throw away much of the contents of their homes.

Another poignant example took place at the Lodge at Gulf State Park, which had been completely destroyed by Hurricane Ivan. Determined to overcome the vulnerabilities Ivan had so devastatingly exposed, the property owners wanted to be a leader in demonstrating to the community how to build back stronger. They turned to the FORTIFIED program.

The hotel was rebuilt in 2019 to the FORTIFIED standards, and IBHS verified the construction process and material selection complied with those standards. Evaluators, trained by IBHS, guided construction and design teams to minimize flaws that otherwise may have gone unnoticed. As a result, when Hurricane Sally’s eyewall passed directly over the Lodge, it not only continued operations, it also housed employees who did not have FORTIFIED homes. Additionally, many media outlets, including The Weather Channels, chose to stay at the lodge to cover the storm and, some unknowingly, benefitted from the protection of FORTIFIED to report on the hurricane, perhaps prompting FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor to emphasize “mitigation works.”

Continuing the post-storm research, IBHS will develop an analysis of key factors influencing the performance of these FORTIFIED structures. Preventing avoidable damage is one of IBHS’s three imperatives, and Sally demonstrated how FORTIFIED achieves that mission. For more information, go to fortified.org.

Deaths Resulting from Louisiana Hurricanes Underscore Need for Personal Power Generator Safety Awareness

(Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

By James Ballot,  Senior Advisor, Strategic Communications, Triple-I

On October 1, Hurricane Delta hit Louisiana as a Cat. 2 storm, cutting power to almost 700,000 residents and causing further setbacks to people in that region who were still recovering from Hurricane Laura, the Cat. 4 storm that ravaged the region in late August.

Residents in hurricane-prone regions commonly rely on emergency power generators to aid in recovery from storms and other catastrophes. Nevertheless, many home and businessowners lack knowledge and training to safely run these devices: of the more than 30 lives lost to Laura and Delta nearly one-third  were caused by fires or carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning due to improper use of emergency power generators.

If you own a generator or are considering purchasing one as part of your emergency preparedness planning, the Triple-I encourages you to follow guidance put forth by the Center for Disease Control, State Farm, Travelers and other reliable sources, including:

William Davis, the Triple-I’s Georgia Media Relations Director adds, “Before a storm knocks out electricity, generator owners need to learn how to use them safely. Generators can be life savers in time of need, but they can also be killers!”

Drop, Cover, and Hold On – Great Shakeout Earthquake Drills Take Place on October 15

About half of all Americans are at risk of ground shaking from earthquakes. That’s why practicing what to do in the event of a quake is so important and why over 11 million people worldwide (and counting) are participating in this year’s Great ShakeOut earthquake safety drill on October 15.

The Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills is a worldwide earthquake safety movement. Most participate by registering to practice “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.”

ShakeOut organizers recommend people follow the Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety, which starts with Step 1: Secure Your Space. Most earthquake injuries are entirely preventable and are caused by furniture and other objects that move or break when shaking occurs, resulting in trips, bruises, cuts, and more. You can secure your space by moving heavy objects down to lower shelves, relocate tall furniture away from entrances and exits, and secure cabinets with latches.

In California, a state where earthquakes are frequent, Earthquake Warning California is coordinating a statewide drill to coincide with ShakeOut. People who have downloaded the MyShake app to their phone will receive a TEST warning at 10:15am with guidance to Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some participants are adapting their ShakeOut activities through video-conferencing, choosing staggered or alternative dates, and following local health and safety guidelines.

To register for ShakeOut click here.

Additional Resources:

The Earthquake Country Alliance’s Safer At Home Webinar Series offer many safety tips and advice on how to minimize financial hardship.

Triple-I’s Facts & Statistics: Earthquake Insurance

Video: What’s covered by earthquake insurance

Hurricane Delta Surges Closer to Gulf Coast

Hurricane Delta is surging closer to the U.S. Gulf Coast and is expected to land on the evening of October 9 somewhere on Louisiana’s southwest coast. Dr. Phil Klotzbach, CSU research scientist and Triple-I non-resident scholar gives an update on Delta in the video clip above.

The hurricane has grown in size since yesterday and a large area of the country will see impacts from the storm. Hurricane warnings are in place from High Island, TX to Morgan City, LA, and storm surge warnings extend from High Island, TX to the mouth of the Pearl River.

In addition to strong winds Delta is expected to bring storm surge as high as 7 to 11 feet along the coast of central LA, rainfall totals are forecast to be from 5 to 10 inches from southwest to central LA, with isolated totals of up to 15 inches.

Delta is on track to hit the same area of Louisiana where Hurricane Laura landed only six weeks ago. New Orleans, which will likely miss the storm, was still preparing for the possibility of tornadoes. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency.  Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also declared a state of emergency, with forecasters saying southern Mississippi could see heavy rain and flash flooding.

Delta to be 5th Hurricane to Make U.S. Landfall in 2020

Residents from eastern Texas to the Florida Panhandle should prepare for Hurricane Delta, which is forecast to make landfall in Louisiana on Friday, October 9.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warns Delta’s impacts will include destructive winds, torrential rain, life-threatening storm surge, flash flooding, isolated tornadoes and widespread power outages.

Delta may intensify to a Category 3 storm as it approaches the U.S.’s Gulf Coast states. The region will begin to experience the storm’s impacts on Thursday, October 8.

In what has become the second most active Atlantic hurricane season on record with 25 named storms (there were 27 in 2005), Delta will be the fifth hurricane and record-setting 10th tropical cyclone to make landfall in the continental U.S. this year. Previous 2020 landfalls include Hurricanes Hanna, Isaias, Laura and Sally, and Tropical Storms Bertha, Beta, Cristobal, Fay and Marco.

Preparedness tips for Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas residents who may be impacted by Delta:

  • Review your evacuation plan and, if you have a pet, your pet’s evacuation plan
  • Make sure your hurricane kit includes a minimum seven-day supply of non-perishable food and drinking water (one gallon per person, per day) for all family members and pets, as well as a one-week supply of medications for everyone in your household. Also include COVID-19 safety supplies such as two face coverings per person and hand sanitizer
  • Write down the name and phone number of your insurer and insurance professional and keep this information either in your wallet or purse
  • Purchase emergency supplies, such as batteries and flashlights
  • Prepare your yard by removing all outdoor furniture, lawn items, planters and other materials that could become airborne in high winds
  • Fill your car’s gasoline tank because long gas lines and fuel shortages often follow in areas impacted by a storm

Damage caused by hurricanes and tropical cyclones are covered under different insurance policies. Wind-caused property damage is covered under standard homeowners, renters and business insurance policies. Renters’ insurance covers a renter’s possessions while the landlord insures the structure.

Property damage to a home, a renter’s possessions, and a business – resulting from a flood – is generally covered under FEMA National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) policies, if the homeowner, renter or business has purchased one. A growing number of private insurers also offer flood insurance.

Private-passenger vehicles damaged or destroyed by either wind or flooding are covered under the optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.

Triple-I has additional hurricane and flood preparedness resources:

Hurricane Season Insurance Checklist
How to Prepare for Hurricane Season
Hurricane Season Insurance Guide
Hurricanes and Windstorm Deductibles
Understanding Your Insurance Deductible
Preparing an Effective Evacuation Plan
Settling Insurance Claims After A Disaster
Facts About Flood Insurance
Recovering from a Flood

Hurricane Delta takes aim at northern Gulf Coast

Hurricane Delta is strengthening rapidly as it heads for Cancun, Mexico. It’s expected to reach Louisiana by Saturday morning. If the storm makes U.S. landfall, it will become the 10th named storm to do so this year – a new record.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards warned coastal parishes to prepare for the storm now. “It is common for many people to experience hurricane fatigue during a busy season, but we need everyone to take this threat seriously,” he said.

Other states along the northern Gulf Coast expected to be impacted include Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Please click on the links below for Triple-I’s hurricane preparedness guides:

Triple-I’s Mark Friedlander offers hurricane safety tips in the video below.

Mudslides Often Follow Wildfire; Prepare, Know Insurance Implications

As wildfires continue to burn in California, Oregon, Colorado, and elsewhere – and people pray for precipitation to help firefighters in their efforts – another threat looms: mudslides.  

Wet weather is in Oregon’s forecast, and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office warned that mudslides and falling trees will be a big concern with so much burned land in the county. Areas that could be seriously affected include Mill City and Gates, where much of the towns have been destroyed by wildfires

The sheriff’s office said people need to pay attention to what happens around them and listen to alerts from local authorities. 

“We’re really concerned about as those high winds pick up, some of those coming down and creating more hazards along the roadway, more than we would see in a typical windstorm,” Sgt. Jeremy Landers with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said.  

He added that it’s important that people have a plan in place in case the weather becomes dangerous. 

Santa Cruz County, Calif., also is preparing for mudslides in the aftermath of the CZU Lighting Complex fire in August. Carolyn Burke, senior civil engineer, said during a special meeting of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors,  “The only effective means of protection” is early warning and evacuation. 

The fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains burned 86,509 acres – and while Cal Fire on September 22 said it was 100% contained, risk remains of fires igniting and the subsequent danger of mudslides when rain comes. Rainy season there has a history of starting from September to November. 

In Colorado, cooler temperatures, rain, and snow have helped suppress the fires that have been  raging across that state. Alaska Incident Management Team Incident Commander Norm McDonald wrote, regarding his team’s work on the Grizzly Creek Fire, “While our assignment ends with the Grizzly Creek Fire at 91% containment, we realize there is still much work to be done and the ramifications of this fire will be long-lived with the potential for mudslides and flooding.”  

For insurance purposes, it’s important to understand the difference between “mudslides” and “mudflow.” 

Mudslides occur when a mass of earth or rock moves downhill, propelled by gravity. They typically don’t contain enough liquid to seep into your home, and they aren’t eligible for flood insurance coverage.  In fact, mudslides are not covered by any policy

Mudflow is covered by flood insurance, which is available from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and a growing number of private insurers. Like flood, mudflow is excluded from standard homeowners and business insurance policies—you must buy the coverage separately. 

Small businesses share how they prep for and successfully recover from disaster

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.

On September 16, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), the Small Business Administration (SBA), and the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) conducted a live webinar on how to prepare for severe weather, COVID-19 interruptions, and other forms of disaster that can have significant impacts on small businesses.

A recording of the webinar is available here.

The webinar showcased two small businesses’ stories of preparation and recovery from disaster. The webinar also covered small business loans that are available after a disaster, 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.

According to Jucker, 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.