Disaster Recovery

7 Tech Tools Every High Net Worth Homeowner Needs to Prevent Disaster

Insurers have become increasingly proactive in helping insureds protect their properties. New technologies help homeowners go a step further in protecting their homes and their possessions.
By: | September 28, 2018 • 4 min read

As hurricanes, wildfires and other extreme weather events become more common, insurers have becoming increasingly proactive in helping insureds protect their properties.


But there’s plenty that homeowners can do on their own to make their homes more disaster resilient, including basics like removing potted plants and outdoor furniture that can become airborne missiles in high winds or making sure any combustible vegetation is a safe distance from the house.

New technologies have also emerged that can help homeowners go a step further in protecting their homes and their possessions.

1) CMCE Lightning Suppressor

In each of the last 10 years, insureds have filed between 100,000 and 246,000 claims for lightning strikes, and insurers have paid out millions — and in some years over a $1 billion — in claims. Conventional technologies like surge protection and lightning rods can help mitigate the damage caused by strikes, but they can’t prevent the strikes in the first place.

CMCE Lightning Suppressors can.

With a low profile and an affordable price tag, this unique technology eliminates the charge differential between clouds and the ground — the essential conditions for lightning to strike — by constantly drawing in both positive and negative ions and sending them to the ground before lightning can form. While CMCE has only been available in the U.S. since 2014, it has been available in Europe since 2002. Since then, the 8,000 residential, commercial and maritime installations using it have not suffered a single lightning strike.

2) Smart Vent

Homes that have an elevated first floor to avoid potential floods can still be devastated even if only the basement gets wet. The weight of floodwaters outside can exert enough pressure to push in a foundation wall.

Smart vents are a simple technology that can be easily retrofitted into below-flood-level foundation walls. In the case of flood, the vents open, allowing water to flow in and out, equalizing the hydrostatic pressure on both sides of the wall.

3) Brand Guard Vents

Many homes lost to wildfires burn from the inside out, far from the wildfire itself, due to hot embers that travel on the wind for great distances — even crossing rivers.

These embers can start spot fires wherever they land, but perhaps their greatest danger to structures is that they can get sucked through vents into attics and crawlspaces, bypassing all external fire prevention strategies, to start fires inside the house.

Brand Guard Vents use a patent-pending overlapping baffle design to keep embers and fire out, while allowing air to circulate.

4) Phos-Chek

For decades, Phos-Chek fire retardant has been to fight wildfires — images of dyed versions dropping from planes have become iconic in the fight against wildfires.

It is effective, non-toxic and remains in place until it is washed off, when it actually fertilizes vegetation. But Phos-chek is also available to consumers, in versions that can be sprayed from roof-mounted hoses, tanks on the backs of pickup trucks, and even backpack or hand-held sprayers.

5) Diluvium

With sea levels rising, intense rain events becoming more common, and flood insurance programs in turmoil, technologies that can protect against floods are more welcome than ever.

One such technology is Diluvium-Dry, a lightweight, portable, freestanding system of interlocking waterproof barriers in four-, five- and six-foot heights that can be installed by one or two people to surround an entire property, using the weight of the floodwaters to hold it in place and maintain a seal against the ground. While currently available only in Europe, it should be available in the U.S. by spring 2019.

6) Collector Systems

High net worth homeowners in disaster-prone areas who have collections of art, antiques or other valuables may have to transport them to safety if they lack in-home fire- or hurricane-safe rooms.  The collections can be stored either in special vault facilities, the homeowner’s other properties, or other locations out of harm’s way.


Keeping track of large and changeable inventories is essential but can be a head-spinning challenge. Collector Systems is a cloud-based collection management company that uses a sophisticated database and easy-to-use app that allows collectors to track the location of each piece in their collection during transit and storage or loans to museums.

And in the event of a loss, it can also be an important tool to aid in cataloging and valuation.

7) Guardrobe

Clothing and couture present special challenges for storage and transportation, and Guardrobe combines the expertise to manage those challenges with a sophisticated database and a user-friendly interface called Cybercloset.

Primarily used by clients who want ready-access to vast wardrobes or couture collections that the company stores, manages, cares for and delivers, Guardrobe will also rescue clients’ collections that are in harm’s way, snatching them from the paths of wildfires, hurricanes or other impending natural disasters. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

High Net Worth Clients Live in CAT Zones. Here’s What Their Resiliency Plan Should Include

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.


Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”


Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.


“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]