Property Risk

Beyond Protected

Research-based engineering and predictive analytics help underwriters take on bigger risks.
By: | December 14, 2016 • 8 min read

Properties designated as Highly Protected Risks (HPRs) can get significantly greater policy limits with a much lower rating structure for their P&C exposures if they continue to keep pace with technology.

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Highly Protected Risk properties often are subject to a much lower than normal probability of loss by virtue of low hazard occupancy or property type, superior construction, special fire protection equipment and procedures and management commitment to loss prevention.

It used to be a property could attain HPR status with just state-of-the-art fire sprinkler systems. Risk managers now need to think HPR 2.0, experts say, and expand the concept beyond sprinklers to the risk exposures that develop in tandem with new upgrades.

“The idea that the majority of loss is preventable has been the center of our business model for 180 years,” said Brion Callori, senior vice president of engineering and research at FM Global, one of the first and largest HPR insurers.

“The amazing thing is how well it still works,” he said. “I think this is why it’s gotten more industry interest in last five to 10 years.”

Brion Callori, senior vice president of engineering and research, FM Global

Brion Callori, senior vice president of engineering and research, FM Global

Underwriters are quantifying and underwriting the exposures that face a single building, a campus, a system, or even a supply chain by using modern tools such as computer models, heat maps and predictive analysis.

Solar panels, clean rooms, data storage and mega warehouses are all examples of property uses adding new hazards. As HPR engineers study those additions, they are also able to design ways to tackle the hazards they create.

Take for example, automatic storage and retrieval systems used in warehouses built larger today with narrower aisles and higher stacking. The ability to store more inventory becomes more important as space grows increasingly expensive. Research on the most advanced sprinkler technologies available aims to protect products, help reduce losses and minimize business interruptions.

“As we move to a just-in-time, more global economy, that’s where the clients’ exposures have changed in the past 30 years; they are all over the world.” — Mike Martin, EVP, general manager of national insurance property, Liberty Mutual

More carriers, armed with research and statistics, have a new perspective on HPRs and are willing to invest in the market. The more “protected” a risk is against specific exposures, the more capacity an underwriter will commit, with broader terms and at a better price.

“As it expands in different industry groups, the HPR engineering and underwriting has been able to expand to follow that and meet the exposure of these different facilities,” said Greg DiPrato, senior vice president of the global property practice at Lockton.

The modern HPR method is based on a system FM Global created nearly two centuries ago to identify ways to reduce losses from fire, explosions or natural disasters at mills. To this day, FM Global engineers continually research how to improve on safety measures such as using more efficient fire suppression, finding the strongest roofing materials or identifying less risky locations.

Liberty Mutual Insurance is another leading HPR insurer with a long history of finding solutions to risk exposures with help from a dedicated team of engineers.

“The definition of highly protected risk has really not changed, not one bit,” said Mike Martin, EVP and general manager of national insurance property at Liberty Mutual. “As we move to a just-in-time, more global economy, that’s where the clients’ exposures have changed in the past 30 years; they are all over the world.”

Research-Based Engineering

The traditional insurance model is an actuarial model, where you look at the losses that happen in an occupancy or an industry class, project forward and say those are the losses you expect in the future, Callori said.

HPR designation for FM Global goes along with what’s called research-based engineering aimed at preventing loss. It’s tough to justify the return on investment for becoming HPR based only on reduced pricing or increased capacity in today’s marketplace.

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“We want to learn from the losses that happened in the past and figure out how to prevent them from happening in the future,” said Callori. “Our clients can take control of their own destiny going forward, and the way we do that is through the engineering.”

“The buyers look for someone that can really add the value to the partnership and help them manage their total cost of risk, not only just the physical loss but also the business continuity,” Martin said.

While most new construction in the U.S. today is built to fire code, which usually confers HPR status, it’s what you put into it and what you do with it once it’s finished that can take away an HPR designation. Conversely, the exposures in almost any building can be adapted to attain HPR status, as long as you are willing to invest in the requirements, Lockton’s DiPrato said.

When a warehouse built to store steel is then converted to plastic products containing lithium ion batteries, it may lose its HPR status because the existing shelves and sprinkler system can’t adequately contain a lithium ion or plastic fire.

Adding solar panels atop a building creates a load factor, wind exposure and voltage exposure to firefighters that must be addressed. The HPR engineers will find ways to protect the buildings, DiPrato said.

“Everybody is worried about cyber hackers from another country, yet still the easiest way to get to your servers is for someone to just walk into your building if they are not questioned.”— Brion Callori, senior vice president of engineering and research, FM Global

After engineers identify a building’s hazards and make their recommendations on how to reduce losses, the client often must prioritize the budget to incorporate everything that’s recommended at every location, Callori said.

To help with that, engineers, such as those at FM Global and Liberty Mutual, have developed predictive analytics tools to help clients focus their limited capital for the most effective route to attaining highly protected risk status.

To help clients determine where best to invest, FM Global offers clients four predictive analytics tools: Risk Mark; Locations Predisposed; Relative Likelihood and Equipment Factors. These tools look at a structure, its location, its use and the machinery inside and make recommendation about likely losses and best value for investing in loss mitigation.

A quick review of losses at properties that follow recommended safety improvements compared with those that didn’t shows the HPR buildings had less loss, Callori said.  For example, 86 percent of the dollar value for 126 large losses at FM Global locations last year happened at non-HPR facilities.

What’s Next? Cyber and Energy HPR

“As a client develops a facility for their needs, the carrier engineers are brought into the process,” DiPrato said. “Lockton has broker engineers that work as consultants to the client and help in those discussions with the insurance carrier. There’s a lot that goes on to keep everything on an HPR status as technology keeps developing.”

Engineers are beginning to take the HPR approach to new directions, such as confronting alternative energy storage and cyber hazards. Field engineers look at physical security exposures and develop ways to protect against cyber hazards using HPR techniques in new ways.

“Everybody is worried about cyber hackers from another country, yet still the easiest way to get to your servers is for someone to just walk into your building if they are not questioned,” Callori said. “The HPR definition can evolve to hopefully protect [against] cyber hazards.

“We’re working on developing a tool that we think is going to be very valuable for the risk managers to actually understand what their exposures are,” Callori said. “That will be straight from HPR.”

Underwriters are going to start to think about HPR cyber protection in the same way they do about fire, said Michael Korn, a managing principal and leader of the national property practice at Integro Insurance Brokers. What are the data controls that are in place? Do you have really robust encryption? Do you have firewalls? How do you back up your information? What employee controls do you have over information?

Playing in the Primary

The most common HPR programs are structured as single carrier; quota share; and shared and layered, said Korn.

Each insurance company “has a particular appetite for where they like to play in a program,” he said.

Michael Korn, managing principal; leader of the national property practice, Integro Insurance Brokers

Michael Korn, managing principal; leader of the national property practice, Integro Insurance Brokers

“You have to put it together as part of a jigsaw puzzle,” said DiPrato. The way the market is today, with a lot of capacity and a lot of players out there, you can put together a lot of options, he said.

“The better the risk — the more HPR it is — the more underwriters are interested in being on it because the chances of having a loss are so much less,” Korn said. Some insurers have very large amounts of capacity and will do a single carrier deal.

Some larger risks might have 15 carriers, and each one is doing a different piece of the puzzle, Korn said.  For example, if a client needs $2 billion worth of capacity, a broker might set up a quota share, where one carrier assumes 30 percent of the program. The broker then builds a tower that goes all the way up to full value with additional quota share players, Korn said.

In a shared and layered program of the same size, a broker can set up a primary layer of $500 million, for example, and add additional layers to reach the needed $2 billion capacity.

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The lower in the tower, the more premium the insurer gets because the chance of impact from a loss is much greater. Those insurers that write excess of the primary get less premium because they take on less risk.

“You approach certain insurers with the idea they want to play in the primary,” Korn said.

Other insurers are more capacity players and typically don’t offer engineering services. They “like to play in the excess,” Korn said. They put up capacity rather than engineering services and receive less premium, Korn said.

The value proposition for Liberty, “is not just the pure insurance product, but things that aren’t covered such as protecting a client’s market share, helping with revenue streams and also reputational risk,” Martin said. “Our loss prevention solutions support a good risk management team, helping them avoid some of those things.” &

Juliann Walsh is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Catastrophe Risk

Material Resiliency

New materials, methods and ideas are empowering property owners to rein in their catastrophe risks.
By: | October 12, 2017 • 11 min read

The 2017 hurricane season is one for the record books. Rebuilding efforts are underway, with builders working to make insureds whole again as soon as possible … at least until the next storm comes along.

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And therein lies the problem with recovery in disaster-prone regions. It evokes the oft-quoted definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

So what if we did it differently? What if instead of rebuilding to make structures “like new,” we rebuilt to make them better, more resilient, less prone to damage?

The reality is, we don’t really have a choice. Climate change is ushering in weather systems that are increasingly volatile. Wildfires are raging like never before. Sea-level rise is threatening our coasts, and there’s no way to dial any of it back.

Nevertheless, people will continue to build homes and businesses along the coast. Real estate developers will continue to nestle luxury homes into wooded foothills.

That means communities need to come to terms with the risk and plan for it intelligently.

Michael Brown, vice president and property manager, Golden Bear Insurance

“Natural disasters are going to happen,” said Michael Brown, vice president and property manager with Golden Bear Insurance. “But if we plan and build communities around the idea that something bad may happen someday, then that community can bounce back faster afterward.”

In any natural disaster, he added, “the property damage is extreme. But the biggest portion of the losses, both insured and uninsured, are the time element pieces. How long was the business closed? How long were homeowners unable to occupy their homes? Those are the pieces that drag on for months — years in some    cases — and really drive the economic loss.”

That’s the motivation behind new materials, designs and strategies being implemented in the construction and repair of at-risk residential and commercial properties.

Powerful Flood Solutions

Newer building products move the needle significantly in terms of efficacy.

For new or restored structures in flood-prone regions, Georgia Pacific produces gypsum panels that incorporate fiberglass mats instead of paper facings and comply with the latest FEMA requirements for flood damage resistance and mold resistance. Wall boards made from magnesium oxide (MgO) don’t absorb water at all and have the added benefits of being environmentally friendly and non-flammable.

In the UK, advanced flood-resilient structures built with water-resilient concrete-block partitions are being fitted with not only MgO wallboards, but also wood-look porcelain or ceramic flooring that’s non-permeable and fire-resistant — without sacrificing aesthetics. Drains are installed in the flooring, along with sub-flooring gullies and submersible pumps that push the water back outside. Outlets and appliance motors are all situated above expected flood levels. Doors are equipped with sliding flood panels.

In the event of flooding that exceeds a depth of two feet, automatic opening window panels (flood inlets) are triggered by sensors to allow flood water to enter the property slowly, to reduce external pressure that could damage the structure.

Carl Solly, vice president and chief engineer, FM Global

Controlled inflow buys time for a homeowner to raise furniture up on blocks, or for a business owner to raise pallets of goods up to higher shelves or move equipment to a higher elevation.

Water intrusion is reduced dramatically, and even when it happens, there is little to no damage. Water is pushed into the floor drains, surfaces are allowed to dry, and then it’s back to business as usual in days rather than months — likely with no insurance claim filed.

Dramatic improvements are happening on this side of the pond as well. For entities that need permanent on-site flood solutions, barriers like flood gates and retractable flood walls are the most sophisticated they’ve ever been.

After suffering $4 billion in damage during Superstorm Sandy, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority invested heavily in flexible fabric flood panels that are made with Kevlar® and can be unrolled quickly and easily. Additional flood gates hinged to air grates are passively activated by the weight of incoming water entering the grates.

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The transit authority is also testing a prototype “resilient tunnel plug” — essentially a giant air bag that can be deployed quickly to seal off sections of subway tunnel. The plug is designed to withstand not only flood but also biochemical attack.

Even temporary solutions are leaps and bounds beyond the days when sandbagging was typically the best option. New as-needed barrier methods include inflatable bladders that can be placed around a building’s perimeter and filled with water to keep floodwater and flood debris at bay.

“People have always said, ‘Well, I’m in a flood plain, it’s inevitable. It’s an act of God,’ ” said Carl Solly, vice president and chief engineer, FM Global. “In the last several years, we’ve really been trying to deliver the message that you can do something about your flood risk.”

Shake, Pummel and Burn

Flood is far from the only problem benefiting from smart engineering. FM Global is working with manufacturers to develop and certify roofing material designed to better withstand the localized hailstorms that often plague southeastern and midwestern states.

Current materials rated for severe hail can withstand hailstones up to 1 ¾ inches in diameter. The new product, rated for “very severe” hail can tolerate hailstones up to 2 ½ inches. The difference sounds small, but it’s far from it.

“It’s about three times the amount of impact energy when it hits the roof [compared to a 1 ¾ hailstone],” explained Solly. “That’s a big difference.”

As for “bouncing back” after a catastrophic fire, Solly said that’s a fairly tall order. But even there, technology is helping to reduce the severity of fires so that disruption is minimal.

FM Global researchers recently pioneered the concept of SMART sprinklers — shorthand for Simultaneous Monitoring and Assessment Response Technology — which can sense a fire earlier than traditional systems and activate targeted sprinkler heads when needed and shut off once the fire is out.

“You’ll catch it with less water, so from a water usage perspective, a water damage perspective and a smoke damage perspective, we think that has an opportunity to be a big difference-maker in the fire protection industry, particular with high-challenge fires,” said Solly.

“You’ve got a better chance of stopping what normally would be a really tough fire to catch.”

In addition, added Brown, smarter sprinkler systems, much like burglar alarms, could be programmed to notify the fire department instantly, even when a structure is unoccupied.

For earthquake risk, said Brown, resilient building efforts are less about new materials than they are about more strategic ways of using traditional materials.

“Here in California we wrap homes in stucco around the wood frame to help the whole building move as a unit. Stucco is concrete so it does crack. I end up with a building that’s got some cosmetic damage … but you don’t have to rebuild the building. It does its job in terms of absorbing a lot of the ground motion before it pushes the building beyond its design tolerances.”

Using stronger, larger steel brackets where the walls meet the roof or the floor or each other, said Brown, “keeps the north wall from moving in one direction while the west wall moves a different direction.”

Those kinds of stress points can push modest earthquake damage to catastrophic levels, he said.

One earthquake innovation still in the beta phase is a project out of the U.C. Berkeley Seismological lab, using the accelerometers in smartphones as virtual seismometers. Participating phones have an app that detects certain types of ground motion. As phones pick up earthquake wave patterns, they ping the server which checks nearby smartphones to see if they sensed the same pattern, all in microseconds. If an earthquake pattern can be confirmed, an alarm will be sent to every cellphone within a logical radius.

That might only buy people an extra two to five minutes before the event, said Brown, “but if you are the operators of Bay Area Rapid Transit commuter trains, that’s enough time to slow all the trains down to five miles an hour. If you are Google, that’s enough time to park a bunch of hard drives in your server farm so that they’re better able to resist shaking and not be damaged too badly.”

Raising Standards

Cost, of course, will impact the take-up of resilient materials and tools. If it’s three times more expensive to build a home out of the resilient materials, a lot of builders aren’t going to want to because the home will be tougher to sell.

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FM Global’s Approvals division tests and certifies a variety of products aimed at mitigating disaster peril. That can help increase property owner confidence in these materials, particularly for commercial structures.

“When you’re betting millions of dollars and the future of your business — or at least the near-term future of your business — you really need to know that it’s going to work,” said Solly.

With just-in-time manufacturing, a company may have a few days’ worth of stock on hand rather than three months’ worth.

“So you can’t afford to be out of business for weeks, because your customers are going to go somewhere else for your product,” he said.

Building standards and codes can help drive adoption of resilient measures in both commercial and residential construction. But more work needs to be done to raise standards to meet the goal of resilience.

Effecting real resilience is something leaders across the spectrum should be talking about, including brokers and carriers, government and research agencies, building products manufacturers, and corporate executives.

If lives are saved in an earthquake, but a building is still damaged to the point where it needs to be torn down, said Brown “that building owner, that community, is going to have a much longer path to full recovery. We want the building codes strengthened to an immediate occupancy [goal] — we want people to be able to move right back into that building so there’s a much shorter window of disruption.

“It’s certainly better for me as the insurer,” he said, “but it’s even better for the guy that owns the building or runs his business out of it because now his employees still have a place to come to work and they can still get paid.”

Every single business able to minimize its downtime in this way helps the entire community be more resilient, he added. It creates that snowball effect in a good way. When businesses are able to stay open or reopen quickly, he said, workers don’t lose a meaningful amount of pay. Everybody’s in a better position to continue shopping and supporting the local economy.

“If you just shorten the line of people who are looking for some sort of federal aid, or state aid because they’ve had a massive financial disaster — maybe we can turn those into moderate to small financial disasters. That’s the key, I think, to communities being more resilient.”

Driving Demand

As the likelihood increases that property owners will experience a second loss or even third loss, some insurers are looking at ways to invest in resilience — a smarter long-term business plan than paying to rebuild again and again.

One new initiative is Lex Flood Ready, the product of a partnership between Lexington Insurance and The Flood Insurance Agency (TFIA). Flood Ready is a coverage enhancement for Lexington Private Market Flood clients that will not only indemnify property owners that suffer flood damage but will also provide the funds to rebuild them to a higher standard of resiliency when replacing floors and walls.

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Resilience proponents advocate a variety of approaches to encourage take-up, including tax credits, resilience grants, insurance incentives and other partnerships, as well as encouraging lenders to engage borrowers by making the flood risk assessments part of the mortgage process.

A certification scheme similar to LEED could also help drive resilience efforts. The UK is currently beta-testing a certification program called Home Quality Mark, developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). Properties are rated on stringent criteria that considers not just disaster resilience, but energy performance and cost, durability and environmental impact.

“Getting people from diverse perspectives thinking about it and talking about it is going to be the avenue to finding the right answers.” — Michael Brown, VP and property manager, Golden Bear Insurance

That’s something builders would be able to use to add value to their properties, offsetting the cost of building in resilience and driving consumer demand for properties built to the highest standards.

With increased resilience will come questions for insurers, said Brown. “It will open up a can of worms.”

It will create something of an arms race among insurance companies, he said. “Who’s going to be the first one to figure out what’s the right way to insure that? What’s the right price? What are the right terms and conditions?” Admittedly, it’s a good problem to have.

Effecting real resilience is something leaders across the spectrum should be talking about, including brokers and carriers, government and research agencies, building products manufacturers, and corporate executives.

“Getting people from diverse perspectives thinking about it and talking about it is going to be the avenue to finding the right answers,” said Brown.

“That kind of mentality top to bottom in the industry is going to be necessary. It’s not the first time we’ve dealt with disruptive things and we will continue doing it. It’s what keeps the game interesting.” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]