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When Disaster Strikes, Parametrics Speed Recovery

Parametric insurance is a critical tool to have in the event of a natural catastrophe.
By: | November 2, 2016 • 6 min read

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When natural catastrophes bring communities to a standstill, they need to start rebuilding and recovering fast to return life to normal. But only 30 percent of the total costs of natural disasters around the globe are insured. Who pays for the other 70 percent?

Overwhelmingly, the burden is borne by governments, who pass along the expense to their citizens by raising taxes, reallocating other budgetary items to repair and recovery efforts, or posting debt post-event.

“We argue that these are really inefficient ways to pay for things that we know are going to happen,” said Alex Kaplan, Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships at Swiss Re.

Alex Kaplan

Alex Kaplan, Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships, Swiss Re

Even when insurance does kick in after a catastrophe, it takes time to assess the damage, value the loss, process the claim and deliver payments. That’s time that communities don’t have when they’re rebuilding.

Coverage gaps present another obstacle. There will inevitably be losses not covered by traditional insurance, and not reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Overtime pay for emergency personnel, for example, is not an insured loss. Nor is the intangible loss of tax revenue that can plague a city for years after natural disaster forces residents out.

“Look at New Orleans. Eleven years after Katrina, they’re still at 85 percent of their pre-Katrina population. That’s not just a loss of individuals and culture; it’s a loss of the tax base. It translates into lesser sales tax, lesser property tax, and lesser lodging taxes. All of a sudden, all of the things the city was attempting to do in its long-term planning can’t happen the way they were designed to,” Kaplan said.

The public sector is also challenged by a lack of liquidity. Governments don’t have cash on hand to spare to fill in these gaps. To rebuild quickly and efficiently, they need payments fast.

“If we can create a mechanism that not only compensates governments for economic loss, but does it exceptionally fast – very differently from how insurance typically operates —it can be incredibly valuable for recovery,” Kaplan said.

Enter parametric insurance.

The Power of Parametric

“Parametric or index-based insurance means that the policy is built around and triggered by characteristics of an event, rather than characteristics of a loss,” said Megan Linkin, Ph.D., CCM, Natural Hazards Expert and Vice President, Global Partnerships, Swiss Re.

Data from third party sources, like the National Hurricane Center or U.S. Geological Survey, would determine what those characteristics are. If a hurricane or an earthquake meets those thresholds for severity, payout from the policy begins automatically.

“One major benefit is that, because you’re relying on third party data and event criteria, the whole claims settlement process can be avoided. No one has to evaluate your losses to initiate payment,” Linkin said.

“That’s the novelty of it — to have this massive event and not have to send in an army of claims adjusters. If the trigger is met, the money flows,” Kaplan said.

Because parametric coverage is event-dependent, its structure is flexible. In order to fit parametric insurance into their budget, insureds can adjust the triggering criteria in the policy, deciding for themselves the level of intensity that will trigger a payout.

Insureds must still provide a proof of loss as a result of a triggering loss. Designating an event as the policy trigger allows payments to begin immediately, but a threshold loss, as determined on a contract-by-contract basis, remains a criterion of the policy.

Parametric coverage can be a lifesaver for communities vulnerable to severe storms and earthquakes that perhaps lack the resources to purchase high limits of traditional insurance.

The CCRIF SPC— an insurance pool comprising several Caribbean countries (formerly the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk and Insurance Facility) — is one mechanism through which those governments can purchase parametric earthquake and hurricane policies collectively. CCRIF has been critical in helping those nations recover from devastating hurricanes and earthquakes.

After an earthquake rocked Haiti in January, 2010, payments from a parametric earthquake policy purchased through CCRIF made up 50 percent of every dollar the government received within the first 10 weeks. Hurricane Matthew provides another recent example.

“Matthew triggered parametric coverage placed through CCRIF, and the facility is in the process of making a $20 million payment to the government of Haiti as a result,” Kaplan said. “Haiti will receive assistance from every corner of the globe to help them recover, and that might come in the form of tents, blankets, water and housing units. But sometimes what you really need is the flexibility of cash, because you don’t always know what you’ll need.”

Coverage for Corporations

SwissRe_SponsoredContentParametric insurance also holds benefits for private corporations as a backstop against gaps in traditional insurance or unforeseen losses.

As the economy becomes more globalized, supply chains become more far-flung and complex. If an earthquake knocks out a supplier in Japan, for example, a quake-centered parametric policy could act as a form of contingent business interruption when traditional insurance limits are maxed.

The 2011 Thailand floods affected a number of suppliers for Japanese car companies and U.S.-based technology companies like Apple. These corporations may not be able to take out insurance policies on the manufacturing facilities they rely on overseas, but a parametric policy that responds to natural disasters that disrupt those facilities could protect them from business interruption exposure.

“You may have a lot of holes in traditional policies, a lot of exclusions or sub-limits, and some losses that you just can’t foresee,” Kaplan said. “The parametric structure effectively acts as a safety net to catch those losses that fall through.”

Parametric policies can be built around a variety of natural events, from earthquake and hurricane to heavy rainfall and flooding. Swiss Re’s Index-Based Named Windstorm Insurance (STORM), as its name suggests, centers on locations exposed to high wind speeds.

Each STORM contract is customized to the needs of the buyer. Rather than offering an “off the shelf” product based on a wind measurement from a single point, Swiss Re’s experts assess the client’s exposure at the geographical expanse of the hurricane’s wind field. This allows a more granular view of their exposure. Clients can then carve out their highest risk element and move them to a parametric policy with coverage tailored to that exposure.

“We have the ability at a very granular level to determine the wind speed at a given location, whether it’s one location or a thousand. We can then assess what kind of damage can be anticipated on the ground. The index, based on aggregated exposed asset values in target zip codes, can be calculated in less than 10 days, and the payout met in about the same amount of time,” Kaplan said.

Parametric products can complement traditional insurance policies to provide additional limits when they’re needed most. After a natural catastrophe, both public and private entities need funds fast, and they may not be able to rely on their property and business interruption policies — or government assistance — to cover all the losses.

Parametrics at a Glance

  1. Parametric insurance is triggered by an event that meets certain conditions — not by a loss.
  2. After a natural disaster, parametric policies fill the gap between insured losses and FEMA reimbursement.
  3. Corporations can also purchase parametric policies as a backstop to fill coverage gaps.
  4. After a triggering event, payouts are automatic and insureds can use the funds however best suits their needs.

To learn more about Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, visit http://www.swissre.com/corporate_solutions/solutions/parametric_products/.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




Swiss Re Corporate Solutions offers innovative, high-quality insurance capacity to mid-sized and large multinational corporations and public entities across the globe.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Black Swan: EMP

Chaos From Above

An electromagnetic pulse event triggered by the detonation of a low-yield nuclear device in Earth’s atmosphere triggers economic and societal chaos.
By: | July 27, 2017 • 9 min read

Scenario

The vessel that seeks to undo America arrives in the teeth of a storm.

The 4,000-ton Indonesian freighter Pandawas Viper sails towards California in December 2017. It is shepherded toward North America by a fierce Pacific winter storm, a so-called “Pineapple Express,” boasting 15-foot waves and winds topping 70 mph.

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Normally, Pandawas Viper carries cargo containers. This time she harbors a much more potent payload.

Unbeknownst to U.S. defense and intelligence officials, the Viper carries a single nuclear weapon, loaded onto a naval surface-to-air missile, or SAM, concealed below deck.

The warhead has an involved history. It was smuggled out of Kyrgyzstan in 1997, eventually finding its way into the hands of Islamic militants in Indonesia that are loosely affiliated with ISIS.

Even for these ambitious and murderous militants, outfitting a freighter with a nuclear device in secrecy and equipping it to sail to North America in the hopes of firing its deadly payload is quite an undertaking.

Close to $2 million in bribes and other considerations are paid out to ensure that the Pandawas Viper sets sail for America unmolested, her cargo a secret held by less than two dozen extremist Islamic soldiers.

The storm is a perfect cover.

Officials along the West Coast busy themselves tracking the storm, doing what they think is the right thing by warning residents about flooding and landslides, and securing ports against storm-related damage.

No one gives a second thought to the freighter flying Indonesian colors making its way toward the Port of Long Beach, as it apparently should be.

It’s only at two in the morning on Sunday, December 22, that an alert Port of San Diego administrator charged with monitoring ocean-going cargo traffic sees something that causes him to do a double take.

GPS tracking information indicates to him that the Pandawas Viper is not heading to Long Beach, as indicated on its digital shipping logs, but is veering toward Baja, Calif.

Were it to keep its present course, it would arrive at Tijuana, Mexico.

The port administrator dutifully notifies the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Indonesian freighter Pandawas Viper off course, possibly storm-related navigational difficulties,” he emails on a secure digital communication channel operated by the port and the Coast Guard.

“Monitor and alert as necessary,” his message, including the ship’s current coordinates, concludes.

In turn, a communications officer in the Coast Guard’s Alameda, Calif. offices dutifully alerts members of the Coast Guard’s Pacific basin security team. She’s done her job but she’s about an hour late.

At 3:15 am Pacific time on December 22, the deck on the Pandawas Viper opens and the naval surface-to-air missile, operated remotely by a militant operative in Jakarta, is let loose.

It’s headed not for Los Angeles or San Diego, but rather Earth’s atmosphere, where it detonates about 50 miles above the surface.

There it interacts with the planet’s atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetic field to produce an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which radiates down to Earth, creating additional electric or ground-induced currents.

The operative’s aim is perfect. With a charge of hundreds and in some cases thousands of volts, the GICs cause severe physical damage to all unprotected electronics and transformers. Microchips operate in the range of 1.5 to 5 volts and thus are obliterated by the billions.

As a result, the current created by the blast knocks out 70 percent of the nation’s grid. What began as an overhead flash of light plunges much of the nation into darkness.

The first indication for most people that there is a problem is that their trusty cellphones can do no more than perform calculations, tell them the time or play their favorite tunes.

As minutes turn to hours, however, people realize that they’ve got much bigger concerns on their hands. Critical infrastructure for transportation and communications ceases. Telecommunication breakdowns mean that fire and police services are unreachable.

For the alone, the elderly and the otherwise vulnerable, panic sets in quickly.

Hospital administrators feverishly calculate how long their emergency power supplies can last.

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Supermarkets and other retailers anticipating one of their biggest shopping days of the year on that Monday, December 23, instead wake up to cold homes and chilling prospects.

Grocery stores with their electricity cut off are unable to open and product losses begin to mount. Banks don’t open. Cash machines are inoperable.

In the colder parts of the United States, the race to stay warm is on.  Within a day’s time in some poorer neighborhoods, furniture is broken up and ignited for kindling.

As a result, fires break out, fires that in many cases will not draw a response from firefighting crews due to the communication breakdown.

As days of interruption turn into weeks and months, starvation, rioting and disease take many.

Say good-bye to most of the commercial property/casualty insurance companies that you know. The resulting chaos adds up to more than $1 trillion in economic losses. Property, liability, credit, marine, space and aviation insurers fail in droves.

Assume widespread catastrophic transformer damage, long-term blackouts, lengthy restoration times and chronic shortages. It will take four to 10 years for a full recovery.

The crew which launched the naval surface-to-air missile that resulted in all of this chaos makes a clean getaway. All seven that were aboard the Pandawas Viper make their way to Ensenada, Mexico, about 85 miles south of San Diego via high-speed hovercraft.

Those that bankrolled this deadly trip were Muslim extremists. But this boat crew knows no religion other than gold.

Well-paid by their suppliers, they enjoy several rounds of the finest tequila Ensenada can offer, and a few other diversions, before slipping away to Chile, never to be brought to justice.

Observations

This outcome does not spring from the realm of fiction.

In May, 1999, during the NATO bombing of the former Yugoslavia, high-ranking Russian officials meeting with a U.S. delegation to discuss the Balkans conflict raised the notion of an EMP attack that would paralyze the United States.

That’s according to a report of a commission to assess the threat to the United States from an EMP attack, which was submitted to the U.S. Congress in 2004. But Russia is not alone in this threat or in this capability.

Wes Dupont, vice president and general counsel, Allied World Assurance Company

North Korea also has the capability and the desire, according to experts, and there is speculation that recent rocket launches by that country are dress rehearsals to detonate a nuclear device in our atmosphere and carry out an EMP attack on the United States.

The first defense against such an attack is our missile defense. But some experts believe this country is ill-equipped to defend against this sort of scenario.

“In terms of risk mitigation, if an event like this happens, then that means the best risk mitigation we have has already failed, which would be our military defense systems, because the terrorists have already launched their weapon, and it’s already exploded,” said Wes Dupont, a vice president and general counsel with the Allied World Assurance Company.

The U.S power grid is relatively unprotected against EMP blasts, Dupont said.

And a nuclear blast is the worst that can occur. There isn’t much mitigation that’s been done because many methods are unproven, and it’s expensive, he added.

Lloyd’s and others have studied coronal mass ejections, solar superstorms that would produce a magnetic field that could enter our atmosphere and wipe out our grid.  Scientists believe that an EMP attack would carry a force far greater than any coronal mass ejection that has ever been measured.

An extended blackout, with some facilities taking years to return to full functionality, is a scenario that no society on earth is ready for.

“Traditional scenarios only assume blackouts for a few days and losses seem to be moderate …” wrote executives with Allianz in a 2011 paper outlining risk management options for power blackout risks.

“If an event like this happens, then that means the best risk mitigation we have has already failed … because the terrorists have already launched their weapon, and it’s already exploded.” — Wes Dupont, vice president and general counsel, Allied World Assurance Company

“But if we are considering longer-lasting blackouts, which are most likely from space weather or coordinated cyber or terrorist attacks, the impacts to our society and economy might be significant,” the Allianz executives wrote.

“Critical infrastructure such as communication and transport would be hampered,” the Allianz executives wrote.

“The heating and water supply would stop, and production processes and trading would cease. Emergency services like fire, police or ambulance could not be called due to the breakdown of the telecommunications systems. Hospitals would only be able to work as long as the emergency power supply is supplied with fuel. Financial trading, cash machines and supermarkets in turn would have to close down, which would ultimately cause a catastrophic scenario,” according to Allianz.

It would cost tens of billions to harden utility towers in this country so that they wouldn’t be rendered inoperable by ground-induced currents. That may seem like a lot of money, but it’s really not when we think about the trillion dollars or more in damages that could result from an EMP attack, not to mention the loss of life.

Allianz estimates that when a blackout is underway, financial trading institutions, for example, suffer losses of more than $6 million an hour; telecommunications companies lose about $30,000 per minute, according to the Allianz analysis.

Insurers, of course, would be buffeted should a rogue actor pull off this attack.

Lou Gritzo, vice president and manager of research, FM Global

“Depending on the industries and the locations that are affected, it could really change the marketplace, insurers and reinsurers as well,” said Lou Gritzo, a vice president and manager of research at FM Global.

Gritzo said key practices to defend against this type of event are analyzing supply chains to establish geographically diverse supplier options and having back-up systems for vital operations.

The EMP commission of 2004 argued that the U.S. needs to be vigilant and punish with extreme prejudice rogue entities that are endeavoring to obtain the kind of weapon that could be used in an attack like this.

It also argued that we need to protect our critical infrastructure, carry out research to better understand the effects of such an attack, and create a systematic recovery plan. Understanding the condition of critical infrastructure in the wake of an attack and being able to communicate it will be key, the commission argued.

The commission pointed to a blackout in the Midwest in 2003, in which key system operators did not have an alarm system and had little information on the changing condition of their assets as the blackout unfolded.

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The commission’s point is that we have the resources to defend against this scenario. But we must focus on the gravity of the threat and employ those resources.

Our interconnected society and the steady increase in technology investment only magnify this risk on a weekly basis.

“Our vulnerability is increasing daily as our use of and dependence on electronics continues to grow,” the EMP commission members wrote back in 2004.

But “correction is feasible and well within the nation’s means and resources to accomplish,” the commission study authors wrote. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]