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.

Hurricane Debris Removal Costs Climbing

It’s difficult to find a photo of Houston, Miami, or any city hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma that doesn’t contain mountains of debris. As cleanup continues, more trash is piling up everywhere. Cities and towns are faced with a number of issues including costs, expediency, manpower and just what to do with all that trash.

Reuters reported that cleanup after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 took about a year. Hugh Kaufman, a retired EPA solid waste and emergency response analyst said the overall bill for Katrina was $2 billion, the largest to date. That cleanup spanned several states and the demolition of the more than 23,000 homes in the New Orleans area alone. He believes the combined cleanup tab for Harvey and Irma will top Katrina‘s.

In Houston, city officials estimate that about 8 million cubic yards of debris will need to be hauled away, enough to fill up the Texans’ NRG Stadium twice. There are about 100,000 piles of trash in the city, with collection farther along in some neighborhoods than in others, according to the New York Times. Moving these mountains of garbage has been left to county and local officials, who hire debris removal companies to help. FEMA reimburses local governments for 90% of their cost. About $136 million in federal funds were released to pay for initial cleanup around Houston, Reuters said.

In Brevard County, Florida, it is estimated there will be 600,000 cubic yards of trash hauled away—compared to 800,000 cubic yards after Hurricane Matthew—which they anticipate will take about a month, Florida Today reported. Because there is no set schedule for pickup, a number of residents decided not to wait, instead hauling their debris to landfills, causing traffic tie-ups.

Where will all this trash go? In Texas, contracted waste haulers and municipal crews are moving trash to dozens of landfills.

Judith Enck, a former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency who dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy told the New York Times that figuring out what to do with debris is one of the most challenging aspects of any storm. Because decisions are generally made at the local level, she said, “every community has to kind of reinvent the wheel.”

Setting aside appliances like refrigerators for recycling, chipping downed trees for mulch instead of burning them, prevents pollution and extends the life of landfills, Enck said, adding that leaking landfills present a hazard that can pollute groundwater.

A number of municipalities are asking residents and businesses that put their trash out for pickup to separate trees and other plant material from debris such as shingles, fences and roofing materials.

Florida Today offered these guidelines for preparing storm debris for pickup:

  • Debris should be placed on the curbside, but not in the road or on a sidewalk.
  • Debris should be sorted into separate piles—such as piles for vegetation, for wooden construction debris and for metal construction debris—to help speed up the pickup process.
  • Vegetation and other debris should be cut into sections no longer than 4 feet.
  • Do not use bags for yard waste, as it makes it impossible to recycle or mulch.
  • Do not put yard waste on top of storm drains, as it could block receding waters from Hurricane Irma flooding.
  • Neatly stack construction and demolition debris (drywall, roof shingles, siding, carpet, fencing and docks).
  • Never place debris next to utility poles or transformers, under power lines, on top of water meters, by fire hydrants, near vehicles, next to mailboxes or fences.
  • Do not place debris on other people’s property.

National Pre-Disaster Standards Called For

Establishing state and local building codes would insure resilient construction and stop the cycle of spending to rebuild after disasters such as hurricanes, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). The organization said it supports the Building codes4BuildStrong Coalition’s National Mitigation Investment Strategy, which calls for a comprehensive federal plan to improve disaster resilience across the U.S.

The plan focuses on investment in pre-disaster funding using unspent, non-FEMA grant program funds to reduce damage caused by natural disasters—funds that were established in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, IBHS said.

“We can’t keep doing things the same way, with lives and communities being destroyed over and over again by disasters, year after year,” said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO said in a statement. “The National Mitigation Investment Strategy will help break this cycle of destruction.”

Building codes3

The Strategy recommends:

  • establishing a new FEMA-administered resilient construction state and local building code grant program to help qualified states defray cost of enforcing building codes
  • increasing FEMA funding for pre-disaster mitigation activities by $100 million per year from fiscal years 2016 to 2020
  • passing new congressional initiatives to create resilient construction incentives for states, builders, and individual homeowners

Building codes2

According to the BuildStrong Coalition:

The reality of the nation’s current disaster policy is this: costs associated with natural disasters in the United States continue to rise, and the federal government is absorbing more and more of the costs as sympathy for victims often creates a political expediency for billions in off-budget, unaccountable federal spending that is allocated for cleanup and recovery. The result is an endless cycle of destruction where cities are rebuilt only to be devastated again by the next big storm. A new approach to federal disaster policy is needed.

The report looks into why more needs to be done before a disaster and describes ways to target more resources to building codes. Doing so through a new national disaster policy focused on pre-disaster mitigation will benefit homeowners and building owners that are of the most immediate concern post-storm.

 

Great ShakeOut Brings Awareness to Earthquake Dangers

New research into earthquake activity in the United States has revealed that nearly half of all Americans are at risk of potential ground shaking from earthquakes. This is almost twice the previous estimate of 75 million, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

“The new exposure estimate is nearly double the previous 2006 estimate of 75 million Americans in 39 states, and is attributed to both population growth and advances in science,” William Leith, USGS senior science advisor for earthquake and geologic hazards and co-author of the study said in a statement. “Populations have grown significantly in areas prone to earthquakes, and USGS scientists have improved data and methodologies that allow for more accurate estimates of earthquake hazards and ground shaking.”

ShakeOut

To bring awareness to this potential danger, a number of organizations worldwide are participating today in the Great ShakeOut, which encourages individuals and organizations to develop contingency plans and practice earthquake drills.

During the drill, participants practice “drop, cover, and hold on,” the recommended safety action to take during an earthquake.

ShakeOut 1

Take cover under a sturdy desk or table, and hold on to it securely. If there is not a desk or table nearby, drop to the floor against an interior wall, then protect your head and neck with your arms. Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects, mirrors, tall furniture, large appliances, and kitchen cabinets filled with heavy objects or glass.

While on the ground, look around and see what objects could fall during a potential earthquake, and make sure to secure or move those items after the drill.

The Great ShakeOut recommends that organizations:

Meet with department heads to review plan and obtain their buy-in, if necessary, and determine what level of drill your organization will conduct and who will participate. Consider drilling at a higher level to engage staff to be more effective during a disaster. (Drill manuals are available in ShakeOut regional website in the Resources section)

  • Level 1 – Simple: Drop, Cover and Hold On
  • Level 2 – Basic: Life Safety Drill
  • Level 3 – Intermediate: Decision-Making Drill
  • Level 4 – Advanced: Business Operations Drill

Create a drill/exercise plan that includes an overview of what your drill will consist of (even if just drop, cover and hold on), what you expect to happen during the drill, and a feedback session after the drill to identify strengths and weaknesses

  • Inform employees/staff participants of date and time of drill, your expectations for their participation, and the benefits of the drill
  • Encourage suppliers, vendors, contractors, partnering organizations, and others in your network to participate – as a means of protecting your organization – and share ShakeOut resources with them. (Consider other tasks that can protect your organization and supply chain, such as having service agreements in place to ensure that the services or products you rely on will be available after disaster)

Create an employee awareness campaign:

  • Post ShakeOut banners and signs throughout your organization to encourage and remind employees, vendors, and customer to participate
  • Initiate an email campaign to employees, staff, and customers with information and tips on how to prepare at home and work
  • Encourage employees to post a ShakeOut-related safety message on their outgoing email messages.

Review and use materials in the Resources section of your regional ShakeOut website:

• Drill broadcast audio/video recordings

• Earthquake safety recommendations for people with disabilities, for people in stores, etc.

• Custom flyers for many organization types

Hold a drill on ShakeOut day (or an alternative date)

  • Have post-drill discussions to hear what people learned and plan next steps.