Catastrophe

10 Years Later: Lessons From Hurricane Katrina

Underwriters are modeling storms better and businesses are revamping their business continuity plans – but memories can be short.
By: | August 19, 2015 • 7 min read

Businesses learned a great deal from the impact of Hurricane Katrina, but underwriters are concerned that institutional memories are fading and there may be “unintended complacency” about exposures to future catastrophic events.

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It was Katrina that showed the impact of storm surge can often be more damaging than high wind speeds and that the physical size of the hurricane can affect the surge itself, according to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS).

There has been a steep rise in the cost of claims for extreme weather events — from an average of $15 billion a year between 1980 and 1989, to an average of $70 billion a year between 2010 and 2013, according to AGCS.

Windstorm losses account for approximately 40 percent of all natural hazard losses by number of claims and 26 percent by value, it said.

However, growth of exposure is far outpacing take-up of insurance coverage resulting in a growing gap in natural catastrophe preparedness, according to AGCS.

Jayanta Guin, executive vice president, researching and modeling, AIR Worldwide

Jayanta Guin, executive vice president, researching and modeling, AIR Worldwide

Jayanta Guin, executive vice president, researching and modeling at catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide in Boston, said the damaging effects of storm surge convinced AIR of the need for a more detailed, hydrodynamic model as opposed to the simpler parametric approach that had been used.

Today, both AIR’s U.S. hurricane model and its recently introduced U.S. inland flood model use a physical modeling approach to capture flood risk.

“For both models, particular engineering attention has been paid to the current-day vulnerability of the levee system in and around New Orleans,” Guin said. “While that system has clearly been strengthened since Katrina, we maintain a healthy dose of skepticism about the levee systems’ longer-term upkeep.”

Vulnerable Structures

Katrina, which struck New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, also revealed new insights into the vulnerability of commercial structures, such as the large number of casinos built on barges along the Mississippi coast, he said. Now, there is greater recognition of the wide array of buildings that companies are insuring. As a result, underwriters’ view of the vulnerability of commercial assets has increased.

Video: National Geographic provides a day-by-day account of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, from its birth in the Atlantic Ocean to its catastrophic effects: flooded streets, flattened homes, and horrific loss of life.

Lou Drapeau, director of risk management at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and vice-chairman of Disaster Recovery Institute International, said that before Katrina, most organizations did not have someone in charge of business continuity, but now many do.

Moreover, he said, Katrina “got a lot of people’s attention” on the need to coordinate risk management, emergency preparedness and emergency response, business continuity and disaster recovery.

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“Those functions can’t exist in their own towers — they really have to work together,” Drapeau said. “Katrina really caused those four separate areas of an organization to work more closely than they have in the past.”

One of the lessons learned from Katrina is that the complexity — and losses — associated with hurricanes in highly developed areas with significant infrastructure are far greater than imagined, said Andy Castaldi, head of catastrophe perils Americas at Swiss Re in Armonk, N.Y.

Over time, carriers learned how to better estimate potential losses, but there are still “quite a bit of surprises,” Castaldi said, such as the damage due to storm surge from Katrina.

Thus, it’s important that manufacturers and other businesses be prepared not only to cover losses from property damage, but also from business interruption.

Andy Castaldi, head of catastrophe perils Americas, Swiss Re

Andy Castaldi, head of catastrophe perils Americas, Swiss Re

“People tend to forget how devastating events can be, and I’m not sure many companies have done enough to protect themselves financially with business interruption plans if they have extensive downtimes,” he said.

Losses escalate quickly due to the increased automation in manufacturing, Castaldi said. Thirty years ago, employees could come the next day after a hurricane, clean up and start working, but today, plants have robotics and other electronics, which are more susceptible to hurricane damage and more costly.

“It might take months for these highly specialized electronics to get repaired as there may be a long waiting list, which can cause bigger problems and bigger losses than ever before,” he said.

Monica Ningen, head of property underwriting U.S. and Canada for Swiss Re, said that the question commercial property owners often asked before Katrina was, “Can we afford to take steps to mitigate against these sort of events?” But the question after Katrina, is, “Can we afford not to?”

Short Memories

Ningen is concerned that many organizations are starting to forget about the disaster plans that were conceived after the hurricane.

Monica Ningen, head of property underwriting US & Canada, Swiss Re

Monica Ningen, head of property underwriting US & Canada, Swiss Re

“New risk managers are coming in and their organizations are forgetting the importance of response time and response in general,” she said. “Public and private entities need to figure out how to work together to find disaster preparation and mitigation solutions.”

Resiliency of an area after a catastrophic event can be measured in three ways: whether people have work, whether their home is habitable and whether children can go to school, Castaldi said.

“Corporations have to think beyond their four walls and make sure their workforce has adequate housing and schools that are properly protected,” he said. “There is such a thing as unintended complacency — the further time away from an earlier catastrophic event, the more people don’t prepare for another one.”

Cheryl Harper, president of RIMS’ South Louisiana chapter, lived through Hurricane Katrina — her house flooded and her employer had 8 feet of water in its offices.

Harper is operations manager for Catholic Mutual Group in New Orleans, the Louisiana office of the Roman Catholic Church’s self-insurance fund, which provides insurance and risk management services for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and two smaller Louisiana dioceses.

After Katrina, the organization set up temporary offices in Baton Rouge and didn’t return its operations to New Orleans until January of 2006.

Crucial Lessons

Businesses must have a solid business continuity plan in place that is updated annually, including emergency contact numbers for all employees, she said. Fortunately, with hurricanes there are advance warnings, so if an event is forecast, Harper makes sure she reconfirms that information before any storm hits.

“It’s important to be able to reach your team by several different methods, as after Katrina we had no cell service, but we could text,” she said.

“You need to invest a little more money on the front end for a secure roof, which will help prevent substantial damage when the next storm does come.” — Cheryl Harper, operations manager, Catholic Mutual Group

Since the organization’s servers were damaged due to flooding during Katrina, the Catholic Mutual Group now has a back-up server in northern Louisiana that it can access remotely. If Harper and her team need to evacuate in the future, she plans to take the minimal amount of operational equipment to make sure she can access the remote server and provide services from any location.

Moreover, the organization published a hurricane manual, which includes emergency contact information as well as guidance on property protection, claim reporting, remediation, reconstruction, and templates for contractor bidding and other forms. Before any storm hits, her company puts remediation companies on standby.

Another crucial lesson learned after Katrina was to strongly encourage parishes and other members to install standing seam metal roofs in new buildings or replace outdated roofs with them, as those roofs typically hold up better during hurricanes, she said.

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This is particularly important now that named storm deductibles are anywhere from 2 percent to 5 percent of the insured value of the building. Replacing with this type of roof can be very costly, but it will save the building from interior water damage and extensive remediation from typical roof damage in a storm.

“You need to invest a little more money on the front end for a secure roof, which will help prevent substantial damage when the next storm does come,” Harper said.

In addition to roofs, AGCS recommended examining and shoring up all “building envelopes,” including walls and windows, and making sure gutters and other drainage systems are clear of debris or vegetation, so water can properly run off during a storm event.

Thomas Varney, ARC regional manager for North America, Allianz Global Corporate Services

Thomas Varney, ARC regional manager for North America, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

“These steps allow us to better support clients in determining potential repairs or maintenance needs,” said Thomas Varney, the company’s ARC regional manager for North America in Chicago.

Businesses should also make sure to adhere to four primary areas of windstorm loss mitigation, according to AGCS’ report Hurricane Katrina 10: Catastrophe Management and Global Windstorm Peril Review,” released August 18:

  • Pre-windstorm planning includes the development of a comprehensive, well-tested emergency plan, site and equipment inspections, and preparations for possible flooding.
  • During a windstorm, response personnel should monitor for leaks, fire and damage.
  • After a windstorm, the site should be secured to prevent unauthorized entry. An immediate damage assessment should be conducted if safe to do so.
  • Business continuity management is crucial as just-in-time production, lean inventories and global supply chains can easily multiply negative effects. Property damage and business interruption are usually covered by insurance policies, but often there is loss of market share, suppliers, clients and staff. Businesses should develop and test business continuity plans and communication cascades.
Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Insurtech

Kiss Your Annual Renewal Goodbye; On-Demand Insurance Challenges the Traditional Policy

Gig workers' unique insurance needs drive delivery of on-demand coverage.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 6 min read

The gig economy is growing. Nearly six million Americans, or 3.8 percent of the U.S. workforce, now have “contingent” work arrangements, with a further 10.6 million in categories such as independent contractors, on-call workers or temporary help agency staff and for-contract firms, often with well-known names such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

The number of Americans owning a drone is also increasing — one recent survey suggested as much as one in 12 of the population — sparking vigorous debate on how regulation should apply to where and when the devices operate.

Add to this other 21st century societal changes, such as consumers’ appetite for other electronic gadgets and the advent of autonomous vehicles. It’s clear that the cover offered by the annually renewable traditional insurance policy is often not fit for purpose. Helped by the sophistication of insurance technology, the response has been an expanding range of ‘on-demand’ covers.

The term ‘on-demand’ is open to various interpretations. For Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO of pioneering on-demand insurance platform Trōv, it’s about “giving people agency over the items they own and enabling them to turn on insurance cover whenever they want for whatever they want — often for just a single item.”

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“On-demand represents a whole new behavior and attitude towards insurance, which for years has very much been a case of ‘get it and forget it,’ ” said Walchek.

Trōv’s mobile app enables users to insure just a single item, such as a laptop, whenever they wish and to also select the period of cover required. When ready to buy insurance, they then snap a picture of the sales receipt or product code of the item they want covered.

Welcoming Trōv: A New On-Demand Arrival

While Walchek, who set up Trōv in 2012, stressed it’s a technology company and not an insurance company, it has attracted industry giants such as AXA and Munich Re as partners. Trōv began the U.S. roll-out of its on-demand personal property products this summer by launching in Arizona, having already established itself in Australia and the United Kingdom.

“Australia and the UK were great testing grounds, thanks to their single regulatory authorities,” said Walchek. “Trōv is already approved in 45 states, and we expect to complete the process in all by November.

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group.” – Scott Walchek, founding chairman and CEO, Trōv

“On-demand products have a particular appeal to millennials who love the idea of having control via their smart devices and have embraced the concept of an unbundling of experiences: 75 percent of our users are in the 18 to 35 age group,” he added.

“But a mass of tectonic societal shifts is also impacting older generations — on-demand cover fits the new ways in which they work, particularly the ‘untethered’ who aren’t always in the same workplace or using the same device. So we see on-demand going into societal lifestyle changes.”

Wooing Baby Boomers

In addition to its backing for Trōv, across the Atlantic, AXA has partnered with Insurtech start-up By Miles, launching a pay-as-you-go car insurance policy in the UK. The product is promoted as low-cost car insurance for drivers who travel no more than 140 miles per week, or 7,000 miles annually.

“Due to the growing need for these products, companies such as Marmalade — cover for learner drivers — and Cuvva — cover for part-time drivers — have also increased in popularity, and we expect to see more enter the market in the near future,” said AXA UK’s head of telematics, Katy Simpson.

Simpson confirmed that the new products’ initial appeal is to younger motorists, who are more regular users of new technology, while older drivers are warier about sharing too much personal information. However, she expects this to change as on-demand products become more prevalent.

“Looking at mileage-based insurance, such as By Miles specifically, it’s actually older generations who are most likely to save money, as the use of their vehicles tends to decline. Our job is therefore to not only create more customer-centric products but also highlight their benefits to everyone.”

Another Insurtech ready to partner with long-established names is New York-based Slice Labs, which in the UK is working with Legal & General to enter the homeshare insurance market, recently announcing that XL Catlin will use its insurance cloud services platform to create the world’s first on-demand cyber insurance solution.

“For our cyber product, we were looking for a partner on the fintech side, which dovetailed perfectly with what Slice was trying to do,” said John Coletti, head of XL Catlin’s cyber insurance team.

“The premise of selling cyber insurance to small businesses needs a platform such as that provided by Slice — we can get to customers in a discrete, seamless manner, and the partnership offers potential to open up other products.”

Slice Labs’ CEO Tim Attia added: “You can roll up on-demand cover in many different areas, ranging from contract workers to vacation rentals.

“The next leap forward will be provided by the new economy, which will create a range of new risks for on-demand insurance to respond to. McKinsey forecasts that by 2025, ecosystems will account for 30 percent of global premium revenue.

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“When you’re a start-up, you can innovate and question long-held assumptions, but you don’t have the scale that an insurer can provide,” said Attia. “Our platform works well in getting new products out to the market and is scalable.”

Slice Labs is now reviewing the emerging markets, which aren’t hampered by “old, outdated infrastructures,” and plans to test the water via a hackathon in southeast Asia.

Collaboration Vs Competition

Insurtech-insurer collaborations suggest that the industry noted the banking sector’s experience, which names the tech disruptors before deciding partnerships, made greater sense commercially.

“It’s an interesting correlation,” said Slice’s managing director for marketing, Emily Kosick.

“I believe the trend worth calling out is that the window for insurers to innovate is much shorter, thanks to the banking sector’s efforts to offer omni-channel banking, incorporating mobile devices and, more recently, intelligent assistants like Alexa for personal banking.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.”

As with fintechs in banking, Insurtechs initially focused on the retail segment, with 75 percent of business in personal lines and the remainder in the commercial segment.

“Banks have bought into the value of these technology partnerships but had the benefit of consumer expectations changing slowly with them. This compares to insurers who are in an ever-increasing on-demand world where the risk is high for laggards to be left behind.” — Emily Kosick, managing director, marketing, Slice

Those proportions may be set to change, with innovations such as digital commercial insurance brokerage Embroker’s recent launch of the first digital D&O liability insurance policy, designed for venture capital-backed tech start-ups and reinsured by Munich Re.

Embroker said coverage that formerly took weeks to obtain is now available instantly.

“We focus on three main issues in developing new digital business — what is the customer’s pain point, what is the expense ratio and does it lend itself to algorithmic underwriting?” said CEO Matt Miller. “Workers’ compensation is another obvious class of insurance that can benefit from this approach.”

Jason Griswold, co-founder and chief operating officer of Insurtech REIN, highlighted further opportunities: “I’d add a third category to personal and business lines and that’s business-to-business-to-consumer. It’s there we see the biggest opportunities for partnering with major ecosystems generating large numbers of insureds and also big volumes of data.”

For now, insurers are accommodating Insurtech disruption. Will that change?

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“Insurtechs have focused on products that regulators can understand easily and for which there is clear existing legislation, with consumer protection and insurer solvency the two issues of paramount importance,” noted Shawn Hanson, litigation partner at law firm Akin Gump.

“In time, we could see the disruptors partner with reinsurers rather than primary carriers. Another possibility is the likes of Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and Apple, with their massive balance sheets, deciding to link up with a reinsurer,” he said.

“You can imagine one of them finding a good Insurtech and buying it, much as Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods gave it entry into the retail sector.” &

Graham Buck is a UK-based writer and has contributed to Risk & Insurance® since 1998. He can be reached at riskletters.com.