This year’s hurricanes have served as a wakeup call about the importance of flood insurance and the fact that not enough people have it. Only 1 in 6 homes in the United States is insured against flood, yet 90 percent of natural catastrophes in the country involve flooding.
More of the population is moving into flood-prone areas. Not only does this increased residential and commercial development put more people in harm’s way, it reduces the amount of land available to absorb excess water. This means more homes and businesses inundated, more contents damaged or destroyed, and more vehicles immersed.
Nowadays, flooding tends to cause more costly damage than wind. An average storm year will generate uninsured losses of $10 billion due to flooding, compared to insured losses of $5 billion.
“One of the most frustrating things for our industry related to flood is that this is actually an insurable peril and it’s broadly uninsured,” said Keith Wolfe, president of U.S. property & casualty insurance at Swiss Re. Wolf recently spoke with Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan, in the latest edition of Triple-I’s Executive Exchange, about closing the flood-protection gap.
That’s changing, however, as the public and private sectors work together to improve consumer behavior and harden communities. The private market is slowly but surely closing the flood protection gap as it emerges as a viable complement to the National Flood Insurance Program.
Improvements in modeling are making this peril more insurable, and private companies are recognizing the flood-insurance opportunity and entering the market. According to Swiss Re, flood represents a $1.1 billion growth opportunity for insurers.
Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies include additional living expenses (ALE) coverage. ALE pays the costs of living away from home—above and beyond your customary expenses— if you cannot live at home due to damage caused by an insured event that makes the home temporarily uninhabitable.
What expenses are typically covered by ALE?
ALE covers living expenses incurred by you so your household can maintain its normal standard of living. These expenses could include:
Grocery or restaurant bills
Transportation (e.g., if your temporary home requires a longer commute)
Your homeowners policy’s ALE coverage is usually equal to 20 percent of your home’s insured value—a home insured for $200,000, for instance, may have ALE coverage of up to $40,000—or limited to a certain timeframe (e.g., no more than 12 months).
What about Damage from Hurricane Ida?
Standard ALE coverage should be triggered if damage from a covered peril (e.g., wind and rain) caused the home to be uninhabitable. In addition, some companies provide ALE coverage when policyholders leave their home or apartment due to mandatory evacuation orders. Policyholders should speak with their insurance professional to confirm whether their policy provides ALE coverage for their situation.
As a reminder, standard homeowners insurance policies typically do not provide coverage for flood damage. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) covers physical damage from flood but does not include ALE. Some privately sold flood policies offer ALE following flood losses.
What Other Help Is Available?
Federal assistance has been made available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). On September 2, FEMA announced they will cover hotel expenses for survivors of Hurricane Ida with damaged homes or dwellings in 25 parishes in southeast Louisiana.
The program, known as Transitional Sheltering Assistance, will provide survivors with short-term housing free-of-charge as they recover from the Category 4 storm. Survivors must first register with FEMA at disasterassistance.gov or by calling the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362. Those wishing to take advantage of the program must find and book their own hotel rooms. Participating hotels are listed at www.femaevachotels.com.
The Insurance Information Institute is working with insurers in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida to monitor property damages and assist consumers as they recover. In this video, Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan provides guidance for homeowners to help them ensure a smooth claims experience and avoid being taken advantage of by unethical contractors and other scammers who tend to emerge after disasters.
“Right now, the most important thing those impacted by Ida can do is remain safe and stay out of the way out of recovery workers,” Kevelighan says. “The storm may have passed, but remember that new dangers may be lurking.”
In particular, he points to threats from downed electrical wires and washed-out roads and bridges. Kevelighan also emphasizes the importance of quickly reporting property damage to your insurer.
Losses from the winter storm that swept through the southern United States earlier this year continue to loom large among the concerns of property and casualty insurers, even as the nation contends with wildfires and anticipates yet another above-average hurricane season.
“On its own, Uri would not necessarily impact premium rates,” says Dr. Michel Léonard, CBE, Triple-I vice president and senior economist. “What matters is the overall severity of extreme weather events during a calendar year or a specific peril season.”
Dr. Léonard reports that current expectations among weather experts of higher-than-average hurricane and wildfire seasons – in addition to Uri – will likely contribute to increases in property insurance rates in 2021, “before and regardless of inflation.”
“Traditionally, actuarial models keep natural catastrophe losses and inflation separate and combine them in the last stage of rate estimates,” Léonard says.
Three 2021 trends, he says, add up to put upward significant pressure on insurance rates for 2022:
Combined 2021 natural catastrophe losses from winter storms, hurricanes, and wildfires expected to be above annual averages;
Overall inflation in the U.S. currently forecast to be between 4% and 6% for 2021, the highest in a decade; and
Industry-specific inflation above the national average for construction materials and labor due to COVID-19 supply-chain disruptions.
“There are a few situations in which extreme weather events directly contribute to replacement cost increases, which, in turn, impact rates,” Léonard says. “But ‘price gouging’ – such as happened after Uri – shouldn’t be confused with inflation. It’s temporary, while inflation almost always endures.”
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.
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.
A few years later, my region would be visited by similarly shocking images in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.
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.
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.
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.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) last week unveiled details of Risk Rating 2.0 – its plan to modernize the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to make it fairer and more sustainable.
The changes measuring flood danger differently – gauging properties’ specific risks and replacement costs, rather than simply whether they sit in a FEMA-designated “flood zone.” FEMA officials said this would end a system in which low-value homes effectively subsidize insurance for high-value homes.
Despite concerns that Risk Rating 2.0 would lead to huge premium increases, NFIP Senior Executive David Maurstad said 23 percent of policyholders will see “immediate decreases,” 66 percent will see an “average of zero to $10 a month” in additional premiums, and 11% will pay higher bills, some more than $20 a month.
NFIP owes the U.S. Treasury $20.5 billion after a series of hurricanes that resulted in claims costs greater than the premiums FEMA received.
“Our current system is just fundamentally not working for us anymore,” Maurstad said, adding that the new approach would result in a “more equitable, accurate and individualized NFIP.”
Lawmakers in coastal states like Florida worried about the sudden impact of higher rates – more accurately reflecting the greater flood risk in those areas – on their constituents. FEMA has ameliorated those concerns by making new rates apply only to new policies when the program takes effect in October 2021. Homeowners and businesses with existing flood policies won’t see a rate change until April 2022.
FEMA said high-value homes in high-risk areas would experience seeing the largest increases. FEMA expects their rate increases would take effect over a 10-15 year “glide path” as they continue to be protected by an 18 percent annual cap on premium increases that is written into law.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) quickly weighed in on the plan.
“The system we’ve used to calculate flood risk, and in turn insurance policy premiums, no longer holds water,” said Shana Udvardy, a UCS climate resilience analyst. “Outdated maps have left homeowners ill-prepared for possible disasters. Risk Rating 2.0 could go a long way in helping homeowners better understand their risk, ensuring they can make informed decisions to protect themselves and their property.”
“It is great to see that FEMA is moving forward with Risk Rating 2.0, which is so badly needed,” said Matthew Eby, executive director of the First Street Foundation, a climate and technology non-profit that has done its own extensive flood-mapping. A recent First Street analysis found the United States to be woefully underprepared for damaging floods.
It identified “around 1.7 times the number of properties as having substantial risk,” compared with FEMA’s flood zone designation. “This equates to a total of 14.6 million properties across the country at substantial risk, of which 5.9 million property owners are currently unaware of or underestimating the risk they face.”
Recent flooding in Kentucky “is going to be one that goes into the record books,” the state’s Emergency Management Director Michael Dossett said in a news conference this week. At least 49 counties had issued disaster declarations following days of rain that dumped four to seven inches across a wide stretch of the state and pushed rivers to levels not seen for decades.
Dossett and Gov. Andy Beshear said the state had been in contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to seek federal aid and that assessments would be made next week for both the flooding and an ice storm last week. Damage assessments for the ice storm had been put on hold by the floods.
Extreme weather events, like these floods and last month’s winter storm that left dozens of Texans dead, millions without power, and nearly 15 million with water issues, underscore the importance of resilience planning and of homeowners and businesses having appropriate insurance coverage.
Flood protection gap
About 90 percent of all U.S. natural disasters involve flooding. Whether related to coastal and inland inundations due to hurricanes, extreme rainfall, snowmelt, mudflows, or other events, floods cause billions of dollars in losses each year. According to FEMA, one inch of flood water can cause as much as $25,000 in damage to a home.
But direct economic losses are only part of the picture. Human costs are enormous, and it can take families, businesses, and communities years to recover.
Flood damage is excluded from coverage under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. However, coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and from a growing number of private insurers.
Many people believe they don’t need flood insurance if the bank providing their mortgage doesn’t require it; others assume their homeowners insurance covers flood damage; others think they cannot afford it.
A recent analysis by the nonprofit First Street Foundation found the United States to be woefully underprepared for damaging floods. It identified “around 1.7 times the number of properties as having substantial risk,” compared with FEMA’s flood zone designation.
“This equates to a total of 14.6 million properties across the country at substantial risk, of which 5.9 million property owners are currently unaware of or underestimating the risk they face,” the report said.
Current system unsustainable
The NFIP owes more than $20.5 billion to the U.S. Treasury, leaving $9.9 billion in borrowing authority from a $30.43 billion limit in law. This debt is serviced by the NFIP and interest is paid through premium revenues. With flood losses on the rise, the current system is not sustainable without changes.
In December, FEMA proposed “substantively” revising the “estimated cost of assistance” factor the agency uses to review governors’ requests for a federal disaster declaration to “more accurately assess the disaster response capabilities” of the states, District of Columbia and U.S. territories. Its Risk Rating 2.0 initiative, set for implementation in October, aims to make flood insurance rates more accurately reflect insured properties’ individual flood risk.
In other words, the federal government will likely ask states, municipalities, and some policyholders to shoulder more of the cost of recovering from natural catastrophes.
Complex challenges require multi-pronged approaches to address them, and FEMA and other federal and state agencies are working with the private sector to close the flood protection gap. In the near term, the most cost-effective way for families and businesses to mitigate flood risk is insurance.
If it can rain where you are, it can flood where you are. As Daniel Kaniewski, managing director for public sector innovation at Marsh & McLennan and former deputy administrator for resilience at FEMA, put it during a Triple-I webinar last year: “Any home can flood. Even if you’re well outside a floodplain, get flood insurance. Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter or a businessowner — get flood insurance.”