Category Archives: Disaster Preparedness

Have a disaster plan for your small business

Owning a small business has many rewards, like freedom, independence and the chance to financially benefit from your own hard work.  But there are also major challenges, like long hours, hungry competitors, and cash-flow problems.

One of the challenges that lands squarely on the shoulders of the small business owner is risk management. Whereas larger firms have the funds to hire specialists whose sole concern is identifying and preparing for threats to the business, Arthur the accountant and Mia the mover must take on that role themselves.

Natural disasters are a type of risk that can strike a business at any time. Luckily for Arthur and Mia, business insurance often comes with loss prevention expertise offered by many insurance carriers to their clients. An agent or broker can create a disaster and recovery plan customized for any business.

Here is a list of disaster planning tips State Farm® offers for small businesses, they include:

Safety first

  • Take time to plan evacuation routes and exits from your facility and mark them.
  • Install proper emergency lighting and exit signs to help show the way in case of power failure.
  • Designate staff “safety wardens” to guide and assist any emergency efforts, including regular drills.
  • Businesses should conduct emergency training exercises with all employees as frequently as needed to reinforce proper reaction times and responses.
  • Identify appropriate shelter spaces, such as a basement or storm cellar, in your facility for emergencies that may require them. If there is no basement in your building, go to the center of a small interior room on the lowest level away from windows or outside walls, such as a closet or interior hallway. Make sure spaces are kept clear of items that would limit their capacity or safety.
  • For more information about emergency safety procedures, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Secure your assets

  • Contact a qualified contractor to discuss risk mitigation construction techniques for your building or office.
  • As an added precaution, you may also want to research places where you could temporarily relocate your operations if disaster strikes.
  • Maintain a comprehensive, up-to-date inventory of the items and equipment used in your business. Consider capturing these assets in photographs or video and securing the images and inventory files offsite.
  • Institute regular backup procedures for critical software and data to help ensure your business maintains access to the digital infrastructure it needs.
  • A business natural disaster plan will help get you up and running.

Following a disaster, you’ll want to resume business as quickly as possible:

  • Keep a name and telephone number list of contractors or repair firms who could make emergency temporary repairs or board up windows should some of your buildings be damaged.
  • Maintain a list of key suppliers, creditors, customers, and employees you need to contact about the state of your operation.
  • Construct a financial plan to cover continuing payroll expenses and debt obligations.

 

 

Mexico’s coral reefs get insured against storm damage

iStock, Riviera Maya, Quintana Roo, Mexico

An innovative insurance product is being deployed to protect several miles of coral reef  around Cancun and Puerto Morelos, reports Business Insurance.  The government of Quintana Roo, Mexico, purchased a parametric insurance product that would pay up to $3.8 million to repair hurricane damage to the reef.

Parametric insurance works using a clearly defined parameter (a metric or an index) that triggers the payout. Up until recently, parametric insurance was used by reinsurers for catastrophe risks, but it has started to be used in the travel, retail and agricultural sectors Insurance Business reported a year ago.

The reef insurance will be triggered if wind speeds above 100 knots are registered within the covered area, with a payout split of 50 percent for reefs and 50 percent for beaches.

One of the advantages of parametric coverage is that it pays out very fast, which is crucial since reef repair will need to be done very quickly to avoid further damage, according to Mark Way, director of Global Coastal Risk and Resilience at The Nature Conservancy in Washington.

“We hope this insurance approach will serve as a scalable model to build new financial mechanisms for the protection of nature,” said Mr. Way.

The insurance policy is financed by the Coastal Zone Management Trust, an organization formed in March 2018 to promote the conservation of coastal areas in the Mexican Caribbean.  Partners in the development of the reef insurance concept include the Nature Conservancy, the state government of Quintana Roo, the Cancún and Puerto Morelos Hotel Owners’ Association, CONANP, Mexican Universities and insurance industry representatives. Swiss Re Ltd. was an early partner in the development of the concept.

New York City’s Disaster Resiliency

Istock.com, J. Lazarin, New York City, USA – October 31, 2012: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

It was a balmy 67-degree day in New York on March 15, which prompted the inevitable joke that since it’s warm outside, then climate change must be real. The wry comment was made by one of the speakers at the New York Academy of Science’s symposium Science for decision making in a warmer word: 10 years of the NPCC.

The NPCC is the New York City Panel on Climate Change, an independent body of scientists that advises the city on climate risks and resiliency. The symposium coincided with the release of the NPCC’s 2019 report, which found that in the New York City area extreme weather events are becoming more pronounced, high temperatures in summer are rising, and heavy downpours are increasing.

“The report tracks increasing risks for the city and region due to climate change,” says Cynthia Rosenzweig, co-chair of the NPCC and senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “It continues to lay the science foundation for development of flexible adaptation pathways for changing climate conditions.”

“What you can’t measure, you can’t manage,” said Columbia University’s Klaus Jacob, paraphrasing Peter Drucker and making a concise case for the importance of the work the NPCC is doing.

The changes in temperature and precipitation that New Yorkers are experiencing are broadly tracking the climate change projections made by the NPCC in 2015. However, the 2019 report notes that such comparisons should be viewed with caution because of the role that natural variation plays in the short term.

William Solecki, co-chair of the NPCC said “Recent scientific advances have…helped the panel craft new sets of tools and methods, such as a prototype system for tracking these risks and the effectiveness of corresponding climate strategies.”

One such tool is the Antarctic Rapid Ice Melt Scenario, which the NPCC created to model the effects of melting ice sheets on sea level rise around NYC. The model predicts that under a high-end scenario, monthly tidal flooding will begin to affect many neighborhoods around Jamaica Bay by the 2050s and other coastal areas throughout the city by the 2080s.

The NPCC 2019 report recommends that the city establish a coordinated indicator and monitoring system to enable the city and its communities to better monitor climate change trends, impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation measures.

The report also notes the important role of insurance in support of climate change adaptation and mitigation. “Public–private partnerships are essential for facilitating infrastructure resilience, particularly for publicly owned infrastructure systems that often lack resources for resilience improvements. Coordination of insurance and finance is an important future direction to achieve comprehensive resiliency in infrastructure that reduces negative climate change consequences,” said the report.

The I.I.I.’s primer on climate change and insurance issues can be found here.

I.I.I. and the Weather Channel get the word out about flood insurance

How to Get Flood Insurance

Only 12 percent of Americans have flood insurance but many more will need it in a severe weather event. Learn more at iii.org about how they are helping homeowners and renters to obtain it.

Posted by The Weather Channel on Thursday, March 7, 2019

 

To make sure that homeowners are aware of the importance of flood insurance, the I.I.I. recently partnered with the Weather Channel.

A video posted to the Weather Channel’s Facebook page demonstrates just how destructive flooding can be; for example, in the video you can see the devastation from Hurricane Sandy wreaked on Breezy Point, a coastal community in Queens NY.

“What’s remarkable about flood insurance is that only 12 percent of people have it,” says Sean Kevelighan, I.I.I.’s CEO. One misconception that people have about flood insurance is that it’s included in a homeowners policy. But that’s not the case. A separate flood policy must be obtained. Flood insurance is mostly sold by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program, but some private insurers have begun offering it as well.

For those savvy enough to have purchased the coverage, it made a world of difference. “If we did not have flood insurance we would have been completely dependent on [government assistance]. It would never have been enough to fix out house”, says one resident of Breezy Point.

The video has garnered over a thousand views so far. We hope it leads to more people getting this invaluable protection.  For more information about flood insurance click here.

Federal Reserve’s Randal K. Quarles and the I.I.I.’s Sean Kevelighan talk resilience – financial and otherwise

 

By Lucian McMahon

“It’s a mistake to try and think of resilience from the point of view of trying to predict what can happen and then to respond to a predicted event, because you won’t know what’s going to happen,” said vice chairman for supervision and member of the Board of Governors, Federal Reserve System Randal K. Quarles at the Insurance Information Institute’s (I.I.I.) 2019 Joint Industry Forum. “The important thing is to ensure that you have measures in effect […] that promote resiliency no matter what might happen.”

Left to right: Sean Kevelighan and Randal Quarles

Resilience is more than prevention

In his conversation with the I.I.I. CEO Sean Kevelighan, Quarles stressed that financial stability depends on resilience, the ability to absorb system shocks no matter their source. “Wherever the shock might come from, it’s important that the institution or system is resilient to shock,” he said.

Cyberrisk is a perfect example. Quarles noted that a lot of the discussion around cyberrisks is about prevention. But he argued that prevention is only one part of cyberrisk resilience. “A key element to resilience is to assume that something will happen, and then determine how you have constructed a system that can stand back up, withstand, and respond to that shock.”

The U.S. economy appears to remain resilient during recent events

Quarles noted that the data on the real economy remains strong. Job creation continues. There’s been an uptick in the labor force participation. The economy is growing without unconstrained inflation.

But what about the recent stock market fluctuations and the ominous financial news coming out of Europe and Asia? “I think recently financial markets have been reacting to a few things,” Quarles said. “Mostly it’s doubt in the strength of continuing global growth. Some of the data that’s come out of China and Europe would suggest a little bit of less growth in the near term.”

Nonetheless, Quarles pointed out that markets might be more attuned to downside risks. He is confident that the core fundamentals of the economy remain strong. “The fundamental fact is that the financial sector is much more highly capitalized, has more liquidity, than it had before the crisis. Our assessment of risk to stability in the current environment is moderate.”

Quarles acknowledged that certain global events (particularly recent threats to trade openness) could impact the financial sector. The Fed, however, is alert to it. Quarles remains optimistic. “The hope is that a lot of these current events, current issues, will be way stations on the way to a more stable, more politically-supported open economy. It’s in everyone’s long term interest.”

In other words, the hope is that the economy is more resilient to shocks than it had been in the past.

I.I.I. Joint Industry Forum Town Hall: How Insurance Can Help Build Resilient Communities

By Sean Kevelighan, CEO, the Insurance Information Institute

 

For centuries, the insurance industry has helped communities and individuals rebuild after losses and catastrophes. But as the threats of natural catastrophes grow, the industry is well-positioned to do more than just help rebuild shattered lives. We can help lessen the impacts of natural catastrophes before they even happen. At the I.I.I. we call it “resilience” – stronger homes, better emergency response, better risk management tools.

I am pleased to say that the insurance industry is already leading the way forward in helping to build resilient communities. At this year’s I.I.I. Joint Industry Forum, Mitch Landrieu, former lieutenant governor of Louisiana and two-term mayor of New Orleans, led a townhall discussion on resilience – what it means and how insurance can help.

Landrieu was joined by some of the top insurance experts in this space: Phil Klotzbach, research scientist, Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University and I.I.I. non-resident scholar; John Rollins, FCAS, MAAA, actuary, Milliman; Keith Wolfe, president, U.S. Property & Casualty, Swiss Re; Roy Wright, president and CEO, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety; and Rohit Verma, global chief operating officer at Crawford & Company.

Landrieu himself knows a thing or two about the power of resilience. He was on the ground when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and he helped lead the effort to rebuild the city in the aftermath.

I was especially struck by how the storm changed his entire mindset around preparedness and resilience. “It shifted from hoping something bad wasn’t going to happen to expecting it to happen, and to building social and physical resilience and to prepare ourselves, so that if something happens we’re stronger and in a better position to respond.”

Unfortunately, this story is all too common: people often only appreciate the need for resilience after the disaster. The insurance industry can and should change that.  Our panelists pointed out several ways insurance can help build community resilience:

  • Improving catastrophe modeling to identify and quantify exposures to help insurers, policymakers, and consumers make resilience-focused decisions.
  • Educating consumers to better understand the risks they’re exposed to – and what kind of insurance they need to protect themselves.
  • Encouraging consumers to invest in mitigation through premium discounts and other incentives.
  • Working in public/private partnerships with local and state governments for insurance affordability and community mitigation initiatives, including better building codes to create a more resilient built environment.

But there are many hurdles still to overcome.

  • Mitigation can be expensive for some risks. For example, installing wind-resistant roofs is relatively affordable and easy to do. But elevating already-built houses above flood levels is another story entirely.
  • Catastrophe models are increasingly viable for some risks (like flood), but not others (like wildfires).
  • Many consumers are still in the dark about how their insurance works. Take flood: 43 percent of homeowners incorrectly think they’re covered for floods. And only 15 percent of homeowners had flood insurance.

A resilient America won’t be built in a day. But the insurance industry will be a crucial player in making our communities ready – so that when the next hurricane hits, the next wildfire breaks out, or the next earthquake strikes, there is less that needs to be rebuilt and more people whose lives and livelihoods were saved from destruction.

Everyone wins – insurers, insurance customers, and society – in a more resilient world.

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.

Mobile claims units are on the ground in Panama City to assist insurance customers impacted by Hurricane Michael

Earlier in the week, Lynne McChristian, our I.I.I. representative based in Tallahassee, wrote about her  life in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Today she returns with a follow-up post.

 By Lynne McChristian

Tallahassee, FL – We were six days without power; it felt longer. Two back-to-back days of record-breaking October temperatures peaking at 90 degrees. The generator was a godsend, even if it was not powering air conditioning, only the refrigerator, an oxygen concentrator for my ailing mother, and random lights. I was trying to keep only one light on at a time to minimize the number of gasoline refills required for the generator.

At dusk, however, it became too dim for mom to navigate the house, so we flipped on more lights – and that meant refilling the generator every 8-10 hours. It ran out of gas at approximately 2:30 a.m. two nights in a row. The first night, I gassed it up in the pitch darkness with a camping light resting on the hood of my car. The second night the generator sat silent, to be refilled at daylight.

I highly recommend having a portable generator ready in advance, rather than waiting (as I did) until you experience two days without power. Here are a few models that FEMA recommends.

On Monday, I drove to Panama City to connect with insurers, many of whom had been on the scene since Sunday. Fleets of insurance company mobile claims units were in multiple places in the area, including a Lowe’s parking lot where claims adjusters from Allstate, USAA and Met Life were helping people start the insurance claims process.

Insurance claim checks were being written on the spot to storm victims for preliminary damage and for additional living expenses. I tried to drive further into town to tour the most severely damaged areas, but traffic was at a crawl. Perhaps the traffic snarl was a combination of residents trying to get back to their homes, those coming to render aid – and the curious. It felt more chaotic as fire trucks and ambulances, law enforcement vehicles and Florida Highway Patrol escorts for utility trucks were splitting through traffic and edging along the shoulder of the road. It was clear the area was still in disaster response mode, not recovery.

Panama City Beach is a tourist area about 10 miles Panama City. On Monday it was a ghost town. Beach Front Road had blocks of mainly empty hotels, closed shops, shuttered amusements, and an occasional restaurant serving meals mainly on their outside patios. It was eerie. Bay County instituted a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Back in Tallahassee, 95 percent of residents had power by Tuesday. This city known for its tree-shaded canopy roads has a great deal of that canopy lying flat alongside the road, waiting for crews to haul it away. In areas hardest hit by Hurricane Michael, the road to normalcy will be a long one. Insurers are serving policyholders throughout the affected regions – to help people recover and rebuild.

Lynne McChristian, is I.I.I.’s Florida Representative, and Assistant Lecturer and Executive Director of the Center for Risk Management Education & Research at Florida State University’s College of Business.

Hurricane Michael’s trail of destruction

Our guest blogger, Lynne McChristian, is an I.I.I. representative based in Tallahassee, about 100 miles from where Hurricane Michael came to shore.

 By Lynne McChristian

After a major natural disaster, there are various levels of survivor conditions – ranging from total devastation to mild inconvenience. In comparison to what people are experiencing in Mexico Beach and the Panama City areas of Florida, my inconveniences are extremely inconsequential. I was asked for a first-person account, and here’s where things stand on a Sunday afternoon.

In my Tallahassee neighborhood, we have been without power since about 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday. This is Day 5 of powerlessness. The air conditioners are silent in the 88-degree heat, but the rumble of portable generators is a bit overbearing, especially at night. The choice is to keep the refrigerator contents cool, or sleep.

At least we have that option and a place to sleep, whereas so many do not. Immediately after the storm, about 90% of the town was without electricity. What makes Tallahassee a beautiful part of the state is the same thing that makes it vulnerable to high winds. Decades old, stately oak trees and towering pines offer shady respite one day, and following a major storm, they become something altogether different – a barrier to returning to a comfort zone.

All over town, trees are twisted up in power lines.  The utility company has a goal of restoring power to most before the weekend is over – and so we wait. On Sunday night, 30 percent of residents still do not have power, and I among them.

I am the owner of a brand-new generator. For some, the purchase is a gamble. Bet on a fast recovery or spend $700 on a bulky tool, use it once and store it forever. My purchase was a risk management decision; my mom turned 95 last week, and she lives with me. The generator gives me confidence that she will have the steady stream of oxygen from the concentrator she uses, so it was a wise purchase in my situation. Thanks, Home Depot, for restocking the generators multiple times to aid.

Streets are clear here in the state capitol, lined with mounds and mounds of tree trunks and tree limbs. Many gas stations are out of gas. It’s an inconvenience; that is all. The focus of recovery is on the countless others who would look at this town’s Hurricane Michael experience and think it barely a blip. By comparison, it is.

 

Lynne McChristian, is I.I.I.’s Florida Representative, and  Assistant Lecturer and Executive Director of the  Center for Risk Management Education & Research at Florida State University’s College of Business.

Before you sign anything, talk to your agent

is this guy legit?

Were you well-prepared for Hurricane Michael? Good. Hurricanes are extremely dangerous.

But if you’re not careful, what happens after the storm can be just as harmful as the hurricane itself.

Beware the shady contractor. It’s a terrible story: someone’s home is damaged from a hurricane. A contractor shows up at their property and offers to complete immediate emergency repairs. All the homeowner needs to do is sign some paperwork and, the contractor assures them, their insurance company will pay for the repairs – easy as that!

Wrong. Shady contractors are not your friend. If you live in Florida, then the paperwork they want you to sign is often an “assignment of benefits” (AOB), a document that gives the contractor the right to receive payouts from your insurance company directly for repairs. (You can read all about how it works – or doesn’t work, as the case may be – on the Florida state website.)

Fraud is real and rampant. In the worst-case scenario, the shady contractor makes minimal or no repairs to the person’s home at all, but they’ll file a large claim with the insurance company anyway. If the fraudster is lucky, they’ll get the insurance payout and skip town. Meanwhile, the house is still ruined, and the homeowner didn’t get help to fix it.

Your home could go unrepaired for weeks, even months. Or the shady contractor will do unnecessary repair work, like ripping apart the kitchen because of “potential mold damage.” He promises to re-install the kitchen – but in the meantime, he bills the insurance company and the insurer pays. Sometimes, the contractor won’t reinstall the kitchen, often on some pretext or other.

This has especially been a huge problem in Florida. You can read some AOB abuse horror stories on the Consumer Protection Coalition website.

There are a lot of scams out there. Not all shady contractors are using AOBs. The Florida Department of Financial Services has also issued warnings about fraudsters who offer to provide repairs for cash – and then never provide repairs.

Talk to your agent before signing anything. Never, ever sign anything before you talk to your insurance company. Especially not if a contractor is putting up red flags, like pressuring you into signing an AOB or demanding large repair deposits up front. Contrary to what the contractor might say, you do not need to sign an AOB to get your home repaired or your insurance claim processed.

Instead, call your insurer. Many insurers will dispatch approved companies to complete emergency repairs on your property. And you’ll still be in control of your insurance policy, which hopefully will make you whole again. No shady contractors needed.