Tips for Managing a Hurricane Claim

Despite early predictions of a mild 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, the latest forecasts reflect the likelihood of more named storms than originally anticipated. If that is not ample motivation for risk managers to double-check their hurricane preparation, then the reality that it only takes one major storm to generate a widespread disaster should be sufficient to warrant a review of their claims preparation.
This process will not only help spot potential gaps in your insurance, but also any issues in your planning that may affect the amount and delay the timing of a claim recovery. Based on recent experience, here are some tips for hurricane claims preparation and management.

Conduct a thorough review of your property insurance. Start by checking your deductible. After a loss, the first question risk managers often get from leadership is: “What’s our retention?” You also need to see if your policy has a blanket or percentage deductible. If the latter, is it a percentage of total insured value (TIV)? Do separate deductibles apply to physical damage and business interruption? Double-check your business interruption deductible. A 2% deductible on a business interruption loss equals seven days of self-retention (365 days x 2%).

In reviewing your policy, check the definitions of covered perils. Look for specific references to “storm surge,” “named windstorm” and “flood.” You’ll also want to make sure your policy covers costs to protect and preserve insured property that sustains physical damage and addresses business interruption losses when a facility is closed to preserve or protect property.

Check fee coverage for claims preparation. In a catastrophe, you may need to retain an outside claims consultant to manage your claim; this coverage—standard in some policies and optional for a nominal surcharge in others—comes in handy for complex claims.

Risk managers also shouldn’t overlook the extended period of indemnity, which gives policyholders additional time after a damaged property is restored to regain market share. And don’t miss assessing how your business interruption coverage addresses payroll; most policyholders want coverage that treats payments to hourly workers as a fixed expense (ordinary payroll), especially during catastrophe events.

During your policy review, be sure not to miss the opportunity to pre-select your adjuster. Designate an adjuster in your insurance policy and meet with them and your insurer’s claims director or examiner before any loss. Besides informing them about your company’s operations and claim strategy, a meeting helps structure the claims process.

List your claims team in your emergency response plan. Creating a team in advance—including claim advocate, restoration company, forensic accountant, engineers and building consultants—will mean they can be mobilized immediately following a major loss event.

After a loss event, communicate with key internal stakeholders. Keep your c-suite, operations, procurement and legal teams fully informed of your loss situation and claim process. And be sure all employees have ample instruction. They will need guidance for setting up loss accounts, invoicing, tracking internal labor, inventory, fixed asset ledgers and on any purchases to help mitigate the loss. They also need to understand the sensitive nature of any discussions with insurance company representatives.

Act quickly to assess the loss. Immediately evaluate the extent of property damage and obtain recommendations on temporary repairs and remediation needed to preserve and protect property. Show the adjuster the full scope of the loss so an appropriate reserve is established.

Designate a key member of your claims team to coordinate, manage and communicate activities of emergency resources, remediation, restoration vendors, environmental specialists and other providers involved in your claim. This encompasses all site inspections and remediation, timelines, target dates, ownership of issues and accountability, and facilitates expedited reviews of damaged inventory.

Work closely with your insurer throughout the loss adjustment process, as well, to negotiate partial payments based on expected short-term expenditures.

Get outside help for complex losses. By bringing expertise and special resources, such as drones and other technology, to determine extent and scope of loss, prepare accurate damage and business interruption assessments, claim experts can make a significant difference in your recovery.

Large-scale catastrophes can involve delays in insurance adjustment and elongated downtime, which can have enduring and widespread negative consequences for an enterprise. With careful planning, risk managers can help their organizations achieve faster and more complete recoveries.

For more information on hurricane preparedness and natural catastrophe planning, visit: http://www.aon.com/disaster-response/

Combating Risks to the Electric Grid

Electricity is the foundation of society, making the electric grid one of our most critical infrastructures. It is also one of the most vulnerable, and is subject to a number of variables, according to, Lights Out: The risks of climate and natural disaster-related disruption to the electric grid, a study by students of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, funded by Swiss Re.

According to the report, in recent years there has been a trend of more natural disasters globally, with 191 natural catastrophes in 2016 and a 24% increase from the level in 2007. In the United States, 43 natural catastrophes caused huge property losses in 2016, almost double those of 2007.

Lights Out focuses on the Pacific Northwest, which is an “illustrative case study in climate and natural disaster related electric grid disruption. The region is prone not only to high-frequency, low-intensity natural disasters such as droughts and flooding, but also at risk of catastrophes like the Cascadian Subduction Zone (CSZ) event, an earthquake-tsunami combination that is expected to devastate the coastline from northern California to southern British Columbia,” according to the report.

As climate change alters the seasonality of water runoffs in the Pacific Northwest, the study found that electricity generation and the operation and maintenance of hydroelectric dams face greater challenges. What’s more, different parts of the grid are vulnerable to different perils. For example, above-ground lines are vulnerable to weather events, while underground lines are susceptible to earthquakes. In Oregon, for example:

More than 50% of substations would be damaged beyond repair in the event of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. In addition, the vulnerability of the electric grid is highly interdependent with other critical infrastructure systems, including roads, water and sewage treatment, and natural gas pipelines. In the event of a major earthquake, damage to road networks can make it impossible to repair transmission and distribution lines, thereby preventing the restoration of all other electricity-dependent lifeline services (water, sewage, telecommunications).

The costs of outages for construction and restoration of the grid are estimated to be 1.59 times higher in highly populated locations versus flat land areas with fewer inhabitants. Costs are also higher when infrastructures such as emergency roads are destroyed, which would slow down repairs to roads, in turn delaying restoration of electric power and impacting telecommunications, water and sewage services.

There may be long-term financial implications as well, as entire communities would be impacted, leading to a possible migration of residents to areas not effected by the disaster. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for example, the population of New Orleans dropped dramatically, and 10 years later, had only returned to 90% of its pre- 2005 levels.

Total population of New Orleans 2000-2015; Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005:

With the increase in natural disasters, the recent destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy as well as the prospect of a magnitude 9.0 Cascadia earthquake, “It is imperative that public and private sector entities explore potential solutions for combating and mitigating damage to the electrical grid and disruption from power outages.” The report urged utilities to increase the resilience of their systems in a number of ways, beginning with conducting utility vulnerability assessments to identify vulnerable infrastructure and develop resilience plans. While many utilities have taken the initial step of identifying the resilience and mitigation strategies that they intend to implement, their implementations after these assessments vary widely by utility.

Utilities have several options for hardening the resilience of their systems, depending on the specific types of natural hazards they face. For example, checking poles for rot and moving infrastructure out of flood zones and landslide-prone areas helps to maintain distribution and transmission infrastructures, keeping them from going down in regions with heavy rainfall and flood risk. Pruning trees to protect wires from falling branches is also important in regions experiencing higher intensity storms, according to the report.

Highlighted trends:

  • Climate change is causing more severe and frequent natural disasters, meaning power systems face increased strain from catastrophes.
  • The interdependence of systems creates further complications: if the electric grid is down for an extended period, collateral effects can lead to disruptions in other services such as water, sewage and telecommunications.
  • The economic implications are challenging governments and energy providers. Not only do they require pre-disaster financing provided by insurance, they must address how to make their systems more resilient to future flooding, droughts and earthquakes.

Make Your Hurricane Preparations Now

With the Atlantic hurricane season’s official start on June 1, the time to check your buildings and existing contingency plans—or start a new one—is now, during hurricane preparedness week.

For 2017, Colorado State University’s hurricane research team predicts slightly below-average activity of hurricanes making landfall, with a forecast of 11 named storms, four hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.

The 2016 season is seen as a wakeup call, as 15 named storms and seven hurricanes formed in the Atlantic Basin—the largest number since 2012. Among the hurricanes was Matthew, a Category 4, which devastated Haiti, leaving 546 dead and hundreds of thousands in need of assistance. After being downgraded to a Category 2, Matthew pummeled southeast coastal regions of the U.S., with 43 deaths reported and widespread flooding in several states.

Here are 10 preparedness steps offered by FEMA:

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) warns that small businesses are especially vulnerable. Of businesses closed because of a disaster, at least one in four never reopens.

IBHS offers these steps for preparing a business for hurricane season:

  1. Have your building(s) inspected and complete any maintenance needed to ensure your building can stand up to severe weather.
  2. Designate an employee to monitor weather reports and alert your team to the potential of severe weather.
  3. Review your business continuity plan and update as needed, including employee contact information. If you do not have a business continuity plan, consider IBHS’ free, easy-to-use business continuity plan toolkit for small businesses.
  4. Remind employees of key elements of the plan, including post-event communication procedures and work/payroll procedures. Make sure all employees have a paper copy of the plan. Review emergency shutdown and start-up procedures, such as electrical systems, with appropriate personnel, including alternates.
  5. If backup power such as a diesel generator is to be used, test your system and establish proper contracts with fuel suppliers for emergency fuel deliveries.
  6. Re-inspect and replenish emergency supplies inventory, since emergency supplies are often used during the offseason for non-emergency situations.
  7. Test all life safety equipment.
  8. Conduct training/simulation exercises for both your business continuity and emergency preparedness/response plans.

Interstate Restoration has a day-by-day list of steps for business storm preparation, based on NOAA recommendations. They include research, planning and documenting, gathering emergency supplies, checking insurance coverage and supply chain and finalizing your plan.

2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook

With the official opening of 2017 Atlantic hurricane season fast approaching, researchers appear cautiously optimistic the relatively quiet streak will continue.

Today, Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project released the extended range forecast of 2017 Atlantic seasonal hurricane activity, predicting slightly below-average activity in the Atlantic basin, with a forecast of 11 named storms, four hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.

Philip Klotzbach, CSU

The probability of at least one major (Category 3+) hurricane making landfall on the entire U.S. coastline is 42%, compared to an average of 52% over the past century. The probability of such a storm hitting the East Coast, including peninsula Florida is 24%, compared to an average of 31%. Thus, CSU noted, the estimated probability of a major hurricane making landfall in the U.S. this season is approximately 80% of the long-period average.

Hurricane activity may not be as critical a determinant for how insurers and property-owners will fare, however. Aon Benfield’s Global Catastrophe Recap reports have consistently noted the rising toll of economic and insured losses due to severe weather events including severe thunderstorms, hailstorms, and flash flooding. In Texas alone, for example, Aon Benfield reports the state incurred record thunderstorm-related losses for the year, with insurers citing costs exceeding $8.0 billion.

Other recent studies support this trend. In the Willis Re and Columbia University report Managing Severe Thunderstorm Risk, researchers found the risk to U.S. property from thunderstorms is just as high as from hurricanes. Their review of Verisk Analytics loss statistics for 2003 to 2015 found the average annual loss from severe convective storms including tornadoes and hailstorms was $11.23 billion, compared to $11.28 billion from hurricanes. Considering the past decade alone, severe convective storms posed the largest annual aggregated risk peril to the insurance industry.

willis re severe convective storms