Disaster Satellites Take Flight

And disaster imaging is what it’s all about.

Today, a Russian rocket will launch two British-built imaging satellites into orbit. Their purpose? To obtain pictures of areas struck by natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and fires. These images are used by goverments and relief workers to aid information retrieval and recovery efforts.

The satellites will hitch a ride into orbit on a converted Soviet-era SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile and join other “Disaster Monitoring Constellations,” including:

  • AlSat-1 (Algeria-owned, launched 2002)
  • NigeriaSat-1 (Nigeria-owned, launched 2003)
  • UK-DMC (UK-0wned, launched 2003)
  • BilSat-1 (Turkey-owned, launched 2006 but no longer in operation)
  • Deimos-1 (Spain-owned, launched 2009)
  • UK-DMC2 (UK-owned, launched 2009)

When they fly over their home territories, the satellites acquire a range of data for domestic use — everything from urban planning to monitoring locust swarms. But when the platforms fly across the rest of the globe, they gather imagery which is pooled and sold on to commercial users. Every so often, however, a major disaster will strike some part of the globe and the DMC constellation will be tasked with gathering emergency pictures as fast as possible.

Recent catastrophes that the satellites covered were the Australian brushfires in February, the Burmese cyclone in May 2008 and, of course, the Asian tsunami of 2004.


H1N1 Still Poses Threat

Though H1N1 may not be grabbing as many news headlines as it did just a month ago, the virus is still spreading — continuing to pose a serious threat worldwide.

In an interview with Reuters news, the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat stated:

“We are continuing to see transmission here in the United States in places like summer camps, some military academies and similar settings where people from different parts of the country come together. This is very unusual to have this much transmission of influenza during the (summer) and I think it’s a testament to how susceptible people are to this virus.”

Passengers flying with the virus are a catalyst for infections in other areas of the world. British Airways has directed its check-in staff to be on the lookout for passengers who show symptoms of the virus. If a passenger is suspected of showing symptoms, British Airways staff  have a 24-hour medical number on hand so the individual may be checked out. The airline says the initiative is part of an effort to limit the spread of H1N1.

Global health officials also reported Friday that the virus is now also spreading to older age groups. This is interesting to note since the virus, when it was first introduced, was known for affecting mostly older children and young adults.

A vaccination against H1N1 is in the works — the WHO claims it may be available in just weeks.

“Manufacturers are expected to have vaccines for use around September. A number of companies are working on the pandemic vaccine production and have different timelines,” WHO said.

Human trials for the vaccine will begin in early August, according to the National Institutes of Health. There is a sense of urgency about finding a vaccine since autumn could possibly be a time of resurgence for the deadly disease.

To spur the effort, the National Insitute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) will be directing research and conducting a series of trials, which will occur at the following research centers:

  • Baylor College of Medicine, Houston
  • Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati
  • Emory University, Atlanta
  • Group Health Cooperative, Seattle
  • Saint Louis University, St. Louis
  • University of Iowa, Iowa City
  • University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore
  • Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.

With 44,000 reported cases and 302 deaths in the U.S. alone, a vaccine is indeed needed — and fast.

Insurance Forecast 2009

I was fortunate enough to attend the Conning Research Insurance Industry Outlook and Forecast 2009 at St. John’s University yesterday. The lecture covered the economic forecast, the outlook on property/casualty, along with forecasts for the life and health insurance industry.

Stephan Christiansen, director of research at the firm, forecasted the following growth in economic drivers:

Annual Data 2008 2009 2010
GDP Growth 1.1% -2.8% 1.8%
CPI 3.8% -0.8% 1.2%
Nom. GDP 4.9% -3.6% 3.0%
Fed. Funds 0.25% 0.25% 1.00%
5-year T-Note 1.6% 2.5% 3.2%
10-Year T-Note 2.3% 3.4% 4.0%

Christiansen pointed to inflation as a key cost-driver and that the time between premium collection and loss payout is susceptible to inflation, meaning that premiums will stay the same while losses increase.

As far as the P/C industry is concerned, Christiansen stated that, although the sector has experienced a recent history of strong ROE and falling combined ratios, the outlook is negative due to the forecasted continued deterioration of the economy and thus, exposure drivers. The research also suggests that, as far as commercial lines go, premium growth remains weaker than that of personal lines, but should recover by 2011 with rates firming in conjunction with the economic recovery. Christiansen also stated:

Looking beyond this year, an expected slow economic recovery in 2010 and a return to more robust growth in 2011 lead to an increase in both premium and loss exposures, but also may include the start of an acceleration in inflationary factors that drive loss severity. We see indications of price firming in personal lines, but continued mixed conditions in commercial lines. Capital conditions remain strong, particularly in commercial lines, and it is likely that further stresses will have to occur before any significant broad-based change in pricing will emerge.

According to Conning Research & Consulting, the recovery of not only the economy, but also the P/C sector, will begin in 2011 — barring any unforseen natural catastrophes or even more unprecedented chaos within the financial sector.


SEC Proposes Disclosure of Risk Mgmt Practices

riskBack on July 1, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted 3-2 in favor of proposed changes for compensation and board risk management disclosures. The report was realeased July 10 and comments on the proposals are due Setp. 15, with the commissioners planning to move swiftly to implement these new measures beginning 2010.

Among the proposed changes within the 137-page report is a rule that would force public corporations to disclose the board’s role in overseeing the management of inherent operational and financial risks.

Disclosures of the board’s role in the risk management process may also benefit investors. Expanded disclosure of the board’s role in risk management may enable investors to better evaluate whether the board is exercising appropriate oversight of risk management.

The report goes on to state that the proposed amendments should, among other things, increase the efficiency and competitiveness of the U.S. capital markets by providing investors with additional information on risk incentives and corporate risk management practices.

The key recommendation? A change in short-term incentives for employees:

Indeed, one of the many contributing factors cited as a basis for the current market turmoil is that at a number of large financial institutions the short-term incentives created by their compensation policies were misaligned with the long-term well being of the companies. By contrast, well-designed compensation policies may enhance a company’s business interests by encouraging innovation and appropriate levels of risk taking.

The proposed ammendments to disclosure are likely to be implemented in hopes of preventing a future financial crisis like the one we’ve seen and are currently recovering from, albeit slowly. This proposed SEC rule proves that risk management will continue to be at the forefront of every action and decision a public company will make.

How is your company preparing to spread the role of risk management and implement SEC rule 33-9052?