RIMS Legislative Summit 2017: Focus on Flood

WASHINGTON—The RIMS Legislative Summit kicked off on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. with a panel lead by Congressional office staff.

Panelists included: Democratic Staff in the U.S. House of Representatives; Jason Tuber, Senior Advisor to Senator Menendez (D-NJ); Ed Skala, Deputy Staff Director for the House Financial Services Committee; and Brandon Beall, Professional Staff Member, Office of Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; as well as Lisa Peto, chief counsel for the Financial Services Committee.

The focus was the once-again looming expiration of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The program that was set to expire in September, but was saved with a temporary extension now set to expire again on Dec. 8.

The panelists, each of whom began with the disclaimer that these were their opinions and not the opinions of their office, came to a consensus that a new NFIP was critical, that a gap in coverage is certainly not ideal and they acknowledged that their offices were working on a bi-partisan resolution.

Some of the major concerns discussed were:

  • Funding—who will fund the NFIP? If the NFIP expires or ceases to exist would the burden fall on the taxpayer and then ultimately on government anyway? Should excess flood coverage be privatized? There was also discussion on whether mandating states to offer certain protections for flood exposure would help the situation.
  • Accessibility and Affordability—what measures must be included in the new bill to not only make sure flood insurance is available but that it is available at an affordable price?
  • Residential vs. Commercial—The idea was discussed as to whether there should ultimately be two versions of the NFIP that separate residential and small businesses from large commercial businesses. It was noted that large commercial businesses might have flood coverage elsewhere or are better funded to retain some risk and, as such, should have the opportunity to opt out. This would spur new challenges to determine what qualifies a business as small or large (i.e., an online enterprise that generates considerable revenue but operates out of someone’s basement).
  • Risk Mitigation—Should risk mitigation be a part of the final bill? Incentives for both the insurer and the insured would support organizations that practice good risk management. The argument was made, however, that not all residents and not all businesses have the funds for risk management. For example, not everyone has the money in the bank to raise the height of a house or storefront.

Jim McIntyre, RIMS Washington, D.C. counsel and chair of McIntyre & Lemon stated, “It is probable that we’re looking at another extension come December. Unfortunately for the National Flood Insurance Program, bills regarding trade, healthcare and immigration will take precedent at the moment and [the NFIP] might have to wait a bit longer.”

On Day two of the summit, about 50 RIMS members descended on Capitol Hill for meetings with congressional leaders. The goal was to share RIMS priorities for a long-term National Flood Insurance Program.

How Small Businesses Can Prepare for the Next Natural Disaster

As we have witnessed these past two months, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated many parts of the south coast and the economies of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. The damage from the storms is expected to halt U.S. GDP by an entire percent. Recent estimates put the costs of recovery at around $85 billion and $59 billion for Harvey and Irma respectively.

While larger businesses have the resources to rebuild and recover, many smaller businesses do not. They will likely struggle to account for the cost of repairs, and even lose their companies in the process. According to FEMA, nearly four in 10 small businesses struck by a natural disaster are forced to permanently shut down. With more storms expected in the coming weeks as hurricane season persists through November, it is vital that small business owners prepare in the meantime.

The first step for any small business is to prepare internally. Here are three best practices that small-business owners can adopt to prepare for a future hurricane or any other natural disaster.

  1. Establish a recovery plan: Often, disaster recovery plans fall to the bottom of small-business owners’ to-do lists, especially if their business is located in an area that doesn’t typically experience high-risk weather. However, no business is immune from a harmful storm’s impact. So disaster preparedness starts with a formal plan that’s comprehensive and allows the company to quickly restore its normal operations following an emergency.
  2. Discuss your plan with all employees: It is crucial for your entire staff to be on the same page when it comes to what your disaster plan involves in order for it to be effective. So once small-business owners have a plan in place, they need to ensure that their employees know what’s included and what their responsibilities are should a natural disaster strike. Owners can share this information by emailing a copy to all employees and discussing the plan in detail at the next all-hands meeting.
  3. Back up your business’s data: Small-business owners should ensure their data is backed up both virtually and physically in a secure location. Doing so can prevent a natural disaster from turning into an even worse data loss debacle.

While following these steps can get small businesses on the right track toward hurricane preparedness, no company can be fully protected without insurance. With a plan in place, the next step is finding the right hurricane insurance plan. But there is often confusion over what proper hurricane coverage looks like.

Small businesses should take into account the specific rules and regulations of their industry when choosing an insurance plan to protect against hurricanes and other natural disasters. That said, there are two policies that are essential to businesses that need a defense against hurricanes.

Commercial Property Insurance is a policy that helps cover some of the cost to repair damages or restore your business property should a natural disaster cause harm. It is important to note, however, that many commercial property insurance policies only protect damages caused by hurricane winds, not flood damage resulting from rising water. If your business is located in an area prone to hurricanes, ask your insurance provider about “riders” (also known as endorsements), which can be added to your policy for more complete coverage.

Business Interruption Insurance is a policy that helps companies deal with the extended time (and business) they may lose as a result of hurricane damage. Often, this forced, lengthy pause in operations is what causes small businesses to permanently close, due to the high costs they incur and their inability to generate the revenue required to cover those costs. Business interruption insurance helps small businesses through by providing the funds for necessities such as taxes, loan payments, rent and salaries. Again, it is key to ask your provider exactly what a policy covers before purchasing it. Typically, business interruption insurance only protects your business if the circumstance that forced you to shut down is already covered by your commercial property policy.

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has already been deemed the third worst on record. With more than a month to go, small businesses can ensure that they’re protected from damages through internal company policies and a thorough insurance plan. As far as hurricane insurance coverage goes, it’s crucial for businesses to do their research and find the policies that will provide the best protection. Although developing these plans will take time and effort, the risks mitigated and money saved as a result will be well worth it in the long run.

New Voluntary Hot Air Balloon Safety Program Announced

The Balloon Federation of America (BFA) has instituted new safety accreditation for companies and pilots. The Envelope of Safety program was the result of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) year-long call to action from the commercial hot air balloon industry in response to last year’s mid-air accident in Lockhart, Texas which caused 16 fatalities.

The Envelope of Safety aims to enhance the standards for commercial balloon operators and reduce the risk of injury or death leading up to and during a flight. The program is voluntary and aims to reassure confidence by giving consumers the ability to select a ride company or pilot meeting the new flight worthiness certification. The Envelope of Safety’s missions it to insure that companies and pilots carrying four or more passengers:

  • Are commercially certificated for 18 months
  • Accumulate a specified amount of flight experience
  • Hold a second-class medical certificate from the FAA

Additionally, pilots are required to pass a drug and alcohol background check, attend a BFA-sanctioned safety seminar in the 12 months before takeoff and be enrolled in the FAA WINGS pilot proficiency program.

The program features three levels of safety accreditation—Silver, Gold and Platinum—which detail stringent safety requirements for companies of all sizes. That criteria includes meeting pilot requirements, holding valid aircraft and commercial vehicle insurance and hosting a forum for passengers to rate the company.

While the FAA is not connected to the new program in an official capacity, it did applaud the BFA’s announcement on its own website and promoted it via social media. Following last year’s deadly incident in Texas, the agency was criticized for having previously rejected the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) recommendations for stricter safety oversight regarding commercial hot air balloon travel. That accident, in which a Heart Of Texas Hot Air Balloon Ride vessel crossed power lines, caught fire and plummeted 100 feet to the ground, is considered the worst of its kind in U.S. history.

The NTSB held a board meeting to examine the cause of the July 30, 2016 crash and found the accident attributable to the Heart Of Texas pilot’s pattern of poor decision making, which led to “the initial launch, continuing the flight in fog and above clouds and to dissent near clouds that decreased the pilot’s ability to see and avoid obstacles.” The board believed the operator’s bad judgment may have been exacerbated by the many prescription drugs found in his blood, according to a toxicology report. The board stressed, however, that it did not believe the medications impaired the pilot’s ability to operate the balloon.

The NTSB recommended that the FAA review its policies based on the findings and, in particular, close a loophole that exempts balloon operators from holding the same second-class medical certification that other aviators must possess.

“Today’s recommendations, if acted upon, will bring the safety standards and oversight of commercial passenger carrying balloon operators closer to those that apply to [general aviation] pilots,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt.

According to the FAA, 413 people died in 219 general aviation accidents in 2016, with inflight loss of control—mainly stalls—accounting for the largest number of fatal accidents.

Visit the BFA’s site or the FAA’s endorsement for more information regarding the Envelope of Safety.

When Nature’s Wrath Alters Your Business Travel Plans

The recent devastation of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria pulverized Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, displacing hundreds of thousands of residents and racking up billions of dollars in property loss. These massive storms, as well as others, also wreaked havoc on corporate travel, crippling a good portion of the business economy by preventing companies from getting employees to their destinations.

FlightAware’s cancellation tracker reached the 3,000 mark the Sunday that Hurricane Irma hit Florida as airports closed throughout the state. But travel issues didn’t ease once the airports reopened, because there was still the issue of missing aircraft. According to reports, JetBlue didn’t have a single plane in the state of Florida and most other airlines cleared out their aircraft from vulnerable airports ahead of the storm. So, flights couldn’t resume until airlines flew aircraft back into the state. This meant that a large number of business travelers, in one of the most convention-friendly states in the U.S., were either stranded or unable to land.

This leaves us with the question: How do you keep stormzillas like these from throwing an oversize wrench into even the most carefully orchestrated travel management plans?

The simple answer: You can’t. But there are ways to minimize the collateral damage that the next big storm brings when planning business travel.

Travel Management Companies can help, as they monitor global weather conditions daily, so as to respond quickly when major disruptions to travel occur. These companies also receive automatic flight updates, enabling them to immediately rebook individuals onto different flights. Due to the fickle nature of hurricanes, which can force additional flights to also get cancelled, companies must investigate ground transportation options as well.

Here are four sanity-saving tips that might come in handy while traveling during hurricane season:

    1. Book flights wisely:

Choose an early morning flight. That way if your flight gets cancelled you have the entire rest of the day to find an alternative flight. And if possible, pick an airline with tons of flight options—the more the merrier when you positively have to get to a game-changing meeting.

  1. Must-Have Phone Apps:

Any app on your phone or tablet that displays a 7-Day Forecast (such as The Weather Channel) is a godsend and helpful when planning business trips. Don’t wait until a storm hits to start making alternate plans. Stay ahead of the weather system game and make your contingency plans as far ahead as possible.

  1. The domino effect:

Always remember that even though your flight lifts off in Chicago (where you are unlikely to get hit with a hurricane), chances are the weather is going to be much different when you land in Miami (where the possibility always looms). Be aware of the weather in all cities on your itinerary. Some airlines will even address customer service issues on their social media pages. JetBlue and Delta are among those that used Twitter to help passengers during Hurricane Irma.

  1. Allow for extra time:

For business travelers trying to get somewhere in unpredictable weather, one of the best suggestions is to simply give yourself plenty of time to get where you are going. While it might cost a little more to book a flight the day before or put an extra night for a hotel room on your AMEX card, but weighed against the option of missing a meeting with a client, it is an investment well worth taking. And if you do find yourself stranded in an airport, turn it into your temporary office.

Inclement weather will always threaten business travel. But by being pro-active in how you handle the situation, you’ll find yourself handling all the adversity thrown your way, no matter which way the wind blows.