The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was hyperactive and extremely destructive, featuring seventeen named storms, with three of them standing out particularly. Hurricane Harvey was one of the costliest tropical cyclones on record, inflicting at least USD 125 billion in damage. The hurricane caused severe human suffering and property damage along its path through the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and Texas, USA. In the greater Houston metropolitan area, catastrophic rainfall-triggered flooding affected hundreds of thousands of homes and displaced more than 30,000 people.
The two other severe hurricanes in 2017 were Irma, which caused widespread and catastrophic damage, particularly in the north-eastern Caribbean and the Florida Keys, and Maria, a category five hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, regarded as the worst natural disaster on record in Dominica and Puerto Rico.
With the 2018 season nearly behind us, we have seen no signs of slowdown. Florence, a powerful and long-lived hurricane, hit the US East Coast in mid-September as the sixth named storm of the season, causing severe damage along its path. Simultaneously, typhoon Manghkut, recognised as the strongest of the year, battered the Philippines, Hong Kong, and mainland China.
There are not yet full estimates of the damage, but it seems to be clear that severe storms and hurricane seasons are more a new normal than an anomaly.
Even as hurricanes and other potential natural hazards develop around the globe, If is not paralysed when it comes to helping clients. We work hard to warn and inform clients with property locations in areas where major natural disasters take place.
To better help clients, If has improved its own processes during the past year. We track the development of major events throughout the world and enable a better dialogue with our clients about potential threats, and help them take action if an event threatens or actually inflicts damage to their sites. "We can now inform clients about threats and help them avoid, mitigate, and limit the consequences," says Jan-Erik Lagerwall, who is working on the system to alert clients.
The coordinates for clients' property sites located in high-risk natural hazard areas are entered into our systems, which we use to track natural events around the globe. If closely monitors global information on weather and natural disasters. The obtained data is then processed and compared with the information on clients' facilities, enabling If immediately to get a picture of which If-insured buildings are located in areas with a natural hazard risk.
"With Harvey, we could initially see that there were 61 If-insured locations in a radius of 250 km from the area where the hurricane made landfall", Jan-Erik reports.
Better data and dialogue
The processed information is quickly sent to the designated client manager to inform them about the situation – for example, how the hurricane is moving, what areas it is expected to hit, what If-insured property is in its path, and what insured values are involved.
The client managers at If communicate this information further to the clients' risk managers and brokers to discuss actions, injuries, and damage. Good communication and data processing help If to reduce risks and damage to the clients' facilities.
However, this is just a small part of a bigger picture. A large part of limiting damage from natural hazards is done prior to any event, by means of good structural designs, good preparedness routines, and good business continuity planning. Part of the dialogue with the clients and affected sites is the checklists that If risk engineers have prepared for different situations, such as snowstorms, floods, and windstorms.
"Good preparedness prior to and quick mitigation actions after an event are the key to limiting the damage from any natural hazard", says Philip Preston, one of the flood experts at If.
"When we are able to warn our customers in good time about approaching events, we might also help the customers to take actions that ultimately can mitigate damage caused to their property", Jan-Erik Lagerwall notes. "The faster damage is attended to, the greater chance there is to limit the loss. Close dialogue between If and the clients and brokers in the event of a loss makes a great difference", Jan-Erik concludes.