Get Ready for the ‘Weather Bomb’

In case you need another reason to dread getting to work this first week of 2018, several weather authorities are warning of a major storm that could affect a majority of the United States with freezing conditions. Storm advisories are being issued from New England states to southeastern winter getaways. Residents of South Carolina, Georgia and even northern Florida should be thinking about stocking up on ground salt, thermal pants and hand warmers.

Nancy Egan, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America’s (PCI) regional manager warned: “A dangerous combination of snow, sleet and freezing rain is on the horizon for the Southeast. Weather like this can cause auto accidents, and property damage, and leave thousands without power. Driving in these treacherous conditions can be tricky, so if you do venture out, make sure your vehicle has a winter storm kit in case you have an accident or get stuck and have to wait for help.”

PCI suggests that winter storm kits include a windshield scraper and small broom; flashlight with extra batteries; road salt, sand or cat litter for traction; booster cables; emergency flares and reflectors; snack food; blankets and a first aid kit.

These warnings are inspired by speculation that intensifying winds and cold will bring about a phenomenon known as “bombogenesis” from Thursday to Friday. In an online primer, Mashable delved into the relevant information that organizations need to know about the “weather bomb” or “bomb cyclone.”

[Bombogenesis] refers to a low pressure area whose minimum central air pressure plummets by at least 24 millibars in 24 hours. By feasting off of intense atmospheric disturbances as well as differences in air masses and ocean temperatures, including the moisture rich Gulf Stream waters, the upcoming tempest is projected to exceed that intensification rate by several more millibars in 24 hours. This intensification rate, if it comes to pass, would be astonishing.

The potential impact of the upcoming storm could equal that of a Category 3 hurricane, the same strength Hurricane Sandy reached at its peak in 2012. With this in mind, companies located anywhere along the projected path should be heeding the warnings and preparing.

This follows a cold snap that has so far killed at least 11 people in cold-related deaths in the U.S. since Tuesday morning, CNN reported. Some of the victims were located in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Missouri and Texas.

The Southeast has a history of being especially vulnerable to cold-weather conditions. On Jan. 29, 2014, the greater-Atlanta area was rendered nearly unnavigable due to about two inches of snow and ice. Although Georgia is the home of the Weather Channel, state officials failed to act on warnings of the precipitation and freezing conditions, and closed all schools mid-day—about the same time that businesses shuttered for the day. Between parents who were on the road to pick up their children and adults leaving their workplaces due to early closings, millions of cars ended up on roadways, causing a gridlock that prevented salt trucks from safely getting to and from storage areas.

The consequences were unprecedented for the area. Although no fatalities were recorded, the Peach State experienced thousands of traffic accidents, closures and even automobile abandonments on interstate highways.

To prevent such a disaster from reoccurring, Georgia’s Department of Transportation announced via Twitter this week that it has mobilized 13 trucks loaded with salt and gravel in anticipation of the storm. While no announcements have been distributed on the Florida Department of Transportation’s site, FloridaDisaster.org is keeping its visitors updated with news of “below average temperatures.” South Carolina has been posting updates on its DOT site, and reminding motorists to use particular caution and to “watch for slow moving SCDOT equipment applying deicing materials.”

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.

Can ORSA Work For All Businesses?

In addition to impacting the way countless organizations conduct business, the 2008 financial crisis was an awakening for regulators charged with reviewing and setting the rules that shape the way organizations assume risk. Insurance, perhaps the riskiest business of them all, did not go unscathed.

Not only are insurers responsible for managing their own internal risks, but careful calculations and guidelines are built into their business models to ensure that the risks fall within set parameters. Regulators will argue, however, that this wasn’t always the case.

Own Risk Solvency Assessment (ORSA) was adopted and now serves as an internal process for insurers to assess their risk management processes and make sure that, under severe scenarios, they remains solvent.

U.S. insurers required to perform an ORSA must file a confidential summary report with their lead state’s department of insurance.  The assessment aims to demonstrate and document the insurer’s ability to:

  • Withstand financial and economic stress with a quantitative and qualitative assessment of exposures
  • Effectively apply enterprise risk management (ERM) to support decisions
  • Provide insights and assurance to external stakeholders

While ORSA is requirement for insurers, a new study by RIMS and the Property Casualty Insurers Association, Communicating the Value of Enterprise Risk Management: The Benefits of Developing an Own Risk and Solvency Assessment Report, maintains that ORSA can be used for all organizations looking to strengthen their ERM function.

According to the report:

Whether or not required by regulation or standard-setting bodies, documenting the following internal practices is a worthwhile endeavor for any company in any sector to utilize in their goal to preserve and create value:

  • Enterprise risk management capabilities

  • A solid understanding of the risks that can occur at catastrophic levels related to the chosen strategy

  • Validation that the entity has adequately considered such risks and has plans in place to address those risks and remain viable.

The connection between the ORSA regulation imposed on insurers and the development of an ERM program within an organization outside of the insurance industry is apparent.

ORSA and ERM both require the organization to strengthen communication between business functions. Breaking down those silos are key to uncovering business risk, but perhaps more importantly, is the interconnectedness of those risks.

Secondly, similar to ERM in non-insurance companies, ORSA requires risk management to document its findings, processes and strategies. Such documentation allows for the process of managing risks to be effectively communicated to operations, senior leadership, regulators and stakeholders. Additionally, documentation enhances monitoring efforts, the ability to make changes to the program and is a benefit that allows ERM to reach a “repeatable” maturity level as defined by the RIMS Risk Maturity Model.

Developing an ERM program has become a priority for many organizations as senior leaders recognize the value of having their entire organization thinking, talking and incorporating risk management into their work. Examining and implementing ORSA strategies can be an effective way for risk professionals to get their ERM program off the ground and operational.

Recovering from Hurricane Matthew

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Many organizations in the southeastern United States recovering from Hurricane Matthew are still dealing with downed power lines, swollen rivers and blocked roads. As soon as they are able to, business owners should start assessing damage to their property and begin their insurance recovery process. They will need to assess not only physical damage to their property but also any income losses that may have occurred as a result of flooded and blocked roads and bridges, interrupted shipping and air transport, evacuations, and closures by civil authority.

They need to gather the information they’ll need for their insurer, and also be familiar with their policy and policy language. “In the runup to a storm, we always hear insurance executives on the news assuring the public that they will take care of things—that policyholders can rest assured,” Marshall Gilinsky, a shareholder in the insurance recovery group at Anderson Kill P.C., said in a statement. “But it’s vital for businesses not to assume everything’s going to be taken care of automatically. Storm-related claims can run into a snarl of unclear policy provisions, sublimits and exclusions, and occasionally obstreperous insurance company adjusters. A false sense of security leads easily to lost insurance proceeds.”

Businesses impacted by the storm that have flood insurance, he said, “should look for coverage not only for physical damage to their premises due to any flooding, but also business interruption and contingent business interruption coverage.” For best results, they should be sure they are up-to-date on how their insurer defines and invokes sublimits for “flood,” “storm surge” and “named storms” and how their insurer deals with claims that include damages from both wind and flood, Gilinsky said.

According to Galinsky, the following coverages (and coverage limits) will apply in a storm’s aftermath:

Business interruption or BI covers businesses for losses stemming from unavoidable interruptions in their daily operations.  BI coverage may be triggered by circumstances including a forced shut-down, a downturn in business due to damage to premises, or a substantial impairment in access to a business’s plant or premises.

Businesses that are not themselves forced to close may be able to tap contingent business interruption coverage, triggered when policyholders do not themselves suffer physical damage but still lose revenue after a property loss sidelines a major supplier or customer base.  Contingent BI is a standard provision in many property insurance policies, though many small businesses are not aware of it.

Also in play will be coverage for evacuation by order of civil authority, triggered when authorities close off access to a damaged area – and ingress egress coverage, which insures lost profits due to difficulties in accessing the insured premises due to the storm. Again, damage to the insured’s own property is not required to trigger coverage — though typically, the losses must result from property damage of a type covered by the insurance policy.

“Too many businesses do not think about insurance unless their premises are damaged—or if they do, they fail to calculate the full range of loss,” Gilinsky said. “Small businesses in particular may not even be aware of their civil authority, ingress egress and business interruption coverage, let alone their contingent business interruption coverage.”

He also noted that many commercial property insurance policies provide different sublimits for losses caused by “flood,” “storm surge” and “named storms.” How the policy defines these key terms can be critical in determining the amount recoverable for the policyholder’s loss.

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America offered the following tips to help businesses through their recovery process.

Business Recovery Information

  • In the aftermath of natural disasters, businesses should take immediate steps to minimize damage, speed up the claims process and accelerate business recovery. Assess the damage and report all damage to your insurance company agent as soon as possible.
  • Take pictures of your building and contents to document the damage.
  • Check for safety hazards, such as downed trees, branches, downed power wires and leaking gas.
  • Keep all receipts for anything purchased for that purpose so they can be submitted to your insurance company.
  • Be prepared to list the “replacement cost” of each item and its actual cash value. Replacement cost is what it would cost today to replace an item with another one just like it. Actual cash value is what the item is really worth after deducting for depreciation and wear.
  • Restore your utilities, phone service, gas lines and other important links as soon as possible.
  • Business interruption coverage is complex and will vary by insurers. It is important to read your policy and understand what is and is not covered.
  • As you seek contractors to make repairs, deal only with reliable, licensed professionals. Get written bids from the contractor, but don’t sign any contracts or give a deposit until you have seen your insurance adjuster.
  • If you or your employees get involved in clean-up efforts, use safety items like proper eyewear, gloves, hardhats, dust masks and respirators.
  • Keep detailed records of business activity and extra expenses during the interruption period, and prepare records to show the income from the business both before and after the loss.