Hurricane Michael Death Toll Reaches 29 As Water Risks Emerge

With experts estimating weeks-at-least before normalcy can return to Florida’s Panhandle coast, Hurricane Michael—a category 4 storm which destroyed thousands of houses in Florida and Georgia—has so far caused at least 29 deaths and numerous injuries in four states. Upon its touchdown on Oct. 10, Michael became one of the strongest ever to hit the U.S. mainland with wind speeds of up to 155 miles per hour. Reports indicate that dozens of people are still missing in the U.S. and up to 35 people remain unaccounted for in hard-hit Mexico Beach.

Boston-based Karen Clark & Company, a risk-modeling firm, estimated that Hurricane Michael caused about $8 billion in insured losses. It includes the privately insured wind and storm surge damage to residential, commercial and industrial properties and automobiles. The figure excludes losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

Brian Wooley, vice president of operations for Interstate Restoration, a Texas-based emergency response and general restoration contractor, said the damage outcomes appear similar to major storms that occurred over the last two hurricane seasons.

“With Michael, we have seen far more wind-related damage as opposed to the kind of flooding damage that we saw with Hurricane Florence last month and Hurricane Harvey last year,” Wooley said. “Numerous businesses were completely wiped out and some were left only with standing walls, but no roofs; leaving all of their contents and structures exposed to the environment…they will have to completely rebuild and restock. As devastating as Hurricane Katrina was, Michael caused more widescale wind-related damage. And even with forceful Hurricane Irma, it didn’t destroy entire communities like Michael was able to do.”

More than 158,000 power customers didn’t have electricity yesterday, demonstrating that progress is being made, as 237,000 were reported Monday without power in the southeast as a result. This is a problem exacerbated by the stifling heat, with the hardest-hit areas receiving air-dropped food and water to survive.  The State of Florida said 3 million ready-to-eat meals, 2 million gallons of water and 2 million pounds of ice are being distributed in storm-impacted areas.

Wooley said that many businesses have proven resilient but others are recovering “in a limping manner.”

“Other projects will take months, and still others might take as long as a year-and-a-half depending on the severity of damage, insurance process complexities,” he said.

Environmental Risks

Another risk that residents and businesses in Florida and Mexico will have to contend with is that of grey water, which contains significant chemical, biological, or physical elements.

“[Grey water] may quickly become hazardous to human exposure as microbes and other contaminants begin to grow to dangerous levels when water has been standing in excess of 48 to 72 hours,” Wooley said. “These types of contaminants typically require a special remediation process and careful handling to safeguard against serious health dangers. This issue of harmful algae is an example of why people should be sure to hire a trusted restoration company with extensive experience dealing with these types of storm situations.”

Emergency Orders and Policyholder Protections

On Oct. 14, Florida Gov. Rick Scott directed Florida’s insurance commissioner to take every action authorized pursuant to Executive Order 18-276 to provide additional protections to support recovery efforts in the areas of the state impacted by Hurricane Michael. Gov. Scott and other state legislators made it clear that the expectation for Florida’s insurance companies is to expeditiously respond to policyholders’ needs and to treat families fairly. The quick response of insurance companies is critical to the recovery of Florida families following Hurricane Michael.

Gov. Scott said: “Hurricane Michael absolutely devastated Florida’s northern Gulf Coast and Panhandle and the recovery of every family impacted by this storm is our top priority. Today… we are mobilizing even more resources and staff to provide additional protections for consumers. Our state will never tolerate anyone taking advantage of the families recovering from this storm.”

Gov. Scott directed additional protections for Florida policyholders in the impacted area:

  1. Provide an additional 90 days to policyholders to supply required information to their insurance company. Many Floridians were displaced during this dangerous storm, and providing additional time to submit information to insurance companies gives them needed flexibility.
  2. Require all non-renewals or cancellations issued to policyholders in the days leading up to Hurricane Michael be rescinded for 90 days. This gives policyholders 90 days to either renew their insurance policy, or find a new policy; and
  3. Freeze any and all efforts to increase rates on policyholders for 90 days. Due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Michael, Floridians should be focused on getting back to their normal lives without their insurance premiums being increased.

During the weekend before landfall, Gov. Scott declared a state of emergency for several counties from the Gulf Coast to Navarre on the Panhandle to the Suwanee River.

Deer Collisions Drop Slightly, But Accident Costs Still Rise

With fall in full swing and holidays on the horizon, new information about animal collisions on the road have been made available for employers and employees.

State Farm’s 16th annual deer-vehicle collision study indicates that overall in the U.S., drivers had a 1-in-167 chance of having a crash with a deer, elk, moose or caribou. This is a five-point drop from last year when the national odds were 1-in-162.

What’s more, State Farm reports that the national per claim average rose for the second year in a row to $4,341 from $4,179 during 2016-17.

The chance of hitting a deer, or another large animal, doubles in the fall. The months with the most claims are November, October and December, in that order.

Some tips for avoiding animal crashes include:

  • Slow down, particularly at dusk and dawn.
  • If you see one deer, be prepared for more deer to cross the road.
  • Brake if you can, but avoid swerving. This can result in a more severe crash.
  • Avoid distractions. Devices or eating might cause you to miss seeing an animal.
  • Do not rely on products such as deer whistles. They are not proven effective.

Additional Autumn Road Hazards

The modest drop in deer collisions doesn’t mean the risk isn’t still prevalent. In its Fall 2018 Seasonal Smarts Digest, Farmers Insurance identified collisions with animals as the top seasonal hazard for drivers between September and November over a five-year period. Collisions with cyclists and multiple vehicle chain collisions followed closely behind as the top types during fall months.

“If you do find yourself in a situation involving a potential collision with deer or other animals this fall, try to stay the course,” said Jim Taylor, head of claims customer experience for Farmers Insurance. “Believe it or not, it may be safer for you and other vehicles on the road to remain calm and stay the course rather than swerving at high speeds in an attempt to avoid the animal.”

Tropical Storm Michael Upgraded to Hurricane, Approaches Florida

The National Hurricane Center classified Tropical Storm Michael as a category 3 hurricane Monday morning as it passed through Cuba and approached Florida.

Over the weekend, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for several counties from the Gulf Coast to Navarre on the Panhandle to the Suwanee River. Gov. Scott also directed the state’s National Guard to activate 500 guardsmen to assist with planning and prepare for response in impacted areas as the state monitors the storm.

Michael is currently located in the Yucatan Channel about 600 miles south of Apalachicola, Florida with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. The storm is moving to the north at 7 mph and is expected to continue strengthening as it accelerates northward across the Gulf of Mexico. It is expected to make landfall as a Category 3, with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph, in the Florida Panhandle or Big Bend on Oct 10.

Storm surges are expected as well, with eight to 12 feet possible. Homeowners and business owners who might be in its path are encouraged to visit floridadisaster.org and FloridaDisaster.biz and register to receive updates as the storm progresses.

Hurricane Irma hit Florida in August 2017, and that category 5 storm caused an estimated $64.76 billion, causing 134 fatalities and affecting several crops and agricultural producers. With Florida still recovering from the damage wrought by Irma, Hurricane Michael may provide major challenges for businesses caught in its path.

Business Continuity Plans
In January, Risk Management Monitor reported that 62% of large U.S. companies with operations in Florida, Texas or Puerto Rico said they were not fully prepared for major storms and hurricanes in 2017.

“These candid admissions drive home a fundamental truth about catastrophe,” Louis Gritzo, vice president and manager of research at FM Global said in a statement in conjunction with the company’s findings. “People routinely fail to understand or acknowledge the magnitude of risk until they’ve experienced a fateful event.”

FEMA’s business disaster continuity plans can be found here, and a Hurricane Ready Business Toolkit can be found here. According to FEMA and the Department of Labor, 40% of small businesses will not reopen immediately after a hurricane hits, 25% more will close about one year later, and 75% of business without a continuity plan will fail within three years. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017, Risk Management Monitor provided critical tips for small businesses preparing for the next natural disaster.

The first step for any small business is to prepare internally. Here are three best practices that small-business owners can adapt 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. 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.

The last October landfalling hurricane in the Florida Panhandle was Hurricane Opal in 1995. Throughout the storm’s path from Central America into the Ohio Valley, 63 people died in storm-related events. Losses attributed to Opal exceeded $4.7 billion, much of which took place in the United States.

First Nationwide Wireless Emergency Alert Tested

For many mobile users in America, yesterday’s afternoon coffee break may have been met with an additional buzz.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials sent a test of the first-ever presidential alert at 2:18 P.M. (EST) to nearly 225 million mobile devices in the United States. The alert would be used in the event of a major national emergency and the test assesses the president’s ability to send a message to the American people within 10 minutes of a disaster.

The message sounded like an Amber Alert with a message that read:

Presidential Alert.

THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.

During yesterday’s White House press briefing just an hour before the message was sent, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the overall test would “assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether technological improvements are needed.”

FEMA officials had previously said the test was expected to last about a half-hour so some people may have received it at different times, with about 75 percent of all wireless users projected to receive the alert.

FEMA is required to conduct a nationwide test of its public alert systems no less than once every three years under the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act of 2015 (IPAWS). Yesterday was the backup day for the test, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 20 but delayed due to ongoing Hurricane Florence recovery efforts.

FEMA recently listed some “need-to-know” information about wireless emergency alerts that businesses can pass on to employees:

  • WEAs can be sent by state and local public safety officials, the National Weather Service, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the President of the United States
  • WEAs can be issued for three alert categories – imminent threat, AMBER, and presidential
  • WEAs look like text messages but are designed to get your attention and alert you with a unique sound and vibration, both repeated twice
  • WEAs are no more than 90 characters, and will include the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, as well as the agency issuing the alert
  • WEAs are not affected by network congestion and will not disrupt texts, calls, or data sessions that are in progress
  • Mobile users are not charged for receiving WEAs and there is no need to subscribe