2017 Storms Break Records

The 2017 hurricane season is finally behind us, but it left its mark with two Category 5 hurricanes and one Category 4 striking within weeks of each other, causing an estimated $300 billion in damage. In fact, 2017 broke records, including the strongest storm—Irma—and the longest-lasting storm, which was Hurricane Harvey. Other natural disasters in 2017 also did their share of damage, including hailstorms and 1,496 tornadoes compared to an average of 1,202.

Then there were the wildfires, which burned more than 9 million acres of land.

Highlights of 2017 are summarized below by Interstate:

Insurance Industry Responds to House Approval of NFIP Renewal

Insurance industry trade groups lauded the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote on Nov. 14, reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The 21st Century Flood Reform Act (H.R. 2874) would reauthorize the program for five years and enact operational changes. Advocates from RIMS, the risk management society, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, and SmarterSafer.org also asked that the Senate waste no time in passing its version of the measure before its expiration on Dec. 8.

On Sept. 8, President Trump signed legislation passed by both houses to extend NFIP authorization until Dec. 8, which previously had been set to expire Sept. 30.

Dow Jones reports that the act’s reforms include:

  • Authorizing $1 billion to elevate, buy out or mitigate high-risk properties
  • Capping flood insurance premiums at $10,000 per year for homeowners
  • Removing hurdles to the private flood insurance market, which often offers better coverage at lower cost than the NFIP
  • Providing for community flood maps and a homeowner’s ability to appeal their flood designation
  • Better aligning NFIP rates to match a property’s true risk, particularly for in-land and lower-value properties
  • Improving the claims process for flood victims
  • Addressing repeatedly flooded properties, which account for 2% of NFIP policies but 25% of claim payments

While it applauded the U.S. House of Representatives for deciding to reauthorize the NFIP, RIMS, the risk management society, also urged the Senate to quickly follow-up before the program’s Dec. 8 expiration. Allowing the NFIP to expire would have “significant repercussions, impacting both corporate and residential property owners,” said RIMS Vice President Robert Cartwright Jr.

“Nearly five million American consumers rely on the NFIP to protect their homes, properties, and businesses,” said Nat Wienecke, senior vice president of federal government relations at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). “A long-term reauthorization is needed to provide consumers and markets with reliability and stability when it comes to flood insurance coverage.”

SmarterSafer.org, a coalition of taxpayer advocates, environmental groups, insurance interests, housing organizations and mitigation advocates, said in a statement that this year’s “historic hurricane season has pushed the nation’s debt-ridden flood insurance program past the point of bankruptcy once again, so we applaud the House for passing a legislative package that reforms the NFIP to ensure the program is financially sustainable for the future.” The organization also lauded the House for investing in recommended measures including “mapping and mitigation, addressing affordability and providing consumer choice in the flood insurance marketplace.”

The NFIP was created more than 50 years ago to provide affordable flood insurance as private insurers pulled out of the market. The program’s large debt led Congress to cancel $16 billion of its debt last month. NFIP now has about $6 billion to pay claims and $10 billion left that it can borrow from the Treasury Department, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the program.

Critical Infrastructure, Security and Resilience Highlighted in November

National Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month (CISRM) kicked off on Nov. 1. The month’s initiatives address risks such as extreme weather, aging infrastructure, cyber threats and acts of terrorism. Its timing is certainly appropriate, as the effects of recent hurricanes on infrastructures in southern states and Puerto Rico continue to be assessed, as well as Northern California’s devastating wildfires and the deadliest shooting massacre in modern U.S. history.

The month was created by the Obama administration and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hosts CISRM in an effort to promote education and awareness of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors that are vital to public safety and national security. Its page reads:

The evolving nature of the threat to critical infrastructure—as well as the maturation of our work and partnership with the private sector—has necessitated a shift from a focus on asset protection to an overarching system that builds resilience from all threats and hazards.

A CISRM toolkit provides companies with templates and drafts of newsletter articles, blogs, and other collateral material for use in outreach efforts. Activities geared toward business owners, public entities and private citizens focus on several key themes to enhance security and resilience, including:

  • Highlighting interdependencies between cyber and physical infrastructure
  • Pointing small and medium-sized businesses to the free tools and resources available to them to increase their security and resilience through Hometown Security and the four steps of “Connect, Plan, Train, and Report”
  • Promoting public-private partnerships
  • Fostering innovation and investments in infrastructure resilience

In his proclamation of CISRM earlier this week, President Trump further committed to helping businesses invest in “needed capital and research and development by reducing burdensome regulations and enacting comprehensive tax reform.” The proclamation states:

We will also renew our Nation’s focus on ensuring that the next generation has the education and training, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and math, required to meet the known and unknown threats of the future.

Overall the United States’ infrastructure is among the top 18 in the world, according to the 2017 FM Global Resilience Index, which aggregates data to help companies identify their key supply chain risks. The U.S. continued to hold high rankings among 130 countries based on drivers in three categories: economic, risk quality and supply chain factors. The U.S. is segmented into three regions to reflect disparate natural hazards exposure:

  • Region 1, encompasses much of the East Coast, is ranked #10 in the index (a one-spot upgrade from last year)
  • Region 2, primarily the Western U.S., is ranked #18 (a three-spot upgrade)
  • Region 3, which includes most of the central portion of the country, is ranked #9 (down three places)

Although the federal government is less focused on asset protection, business owners can still get involved by safeguarding workplaces. In its October 2017 edition, CLM magazine noted that another path toward resilience involves reducing property damage caused by extreme weather and natural disasters. Literally looking to the sky is one suggestion; business and property owners should pay particular attention to their roofs in order to prevent degradation and enable them to withstand high winds.

“Property owners need to have maintenance personnel adopt and implement preventative maintenance and roof inspection programs that alert them to potential and active degradation,” wrote the authors of the article, “Time For Resilience.” “Weak links such as roof detachment, corrosion, or other damage could tear off roofing during an enhanced wind event. Such risks need to be mitigated before an event occurs.”

Ready.gov provides resources on disaster planning and management, and also has this section on Business Continuity.

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.