A View from the Field

Post-Hurricane Rebuild Risk Management

Hurricane rebuilding will require creative solutions.
By: | October 17, 2017 • 7 min read

Before this year’s severe hurricane season, our country’s construction industry was already facing significant challenges.  A short supply of skilled labor, coupled with a new expedited permit approval process was raising questions about resources, quality and safety control industry-wide.

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And then came Harvey, Irma and Maria.

In the immediate aftermath of the storms, attention is appropriately focused on the individuals impacted by residential loss, property damage and devastating loss of life. As the water recedes, the focus moves from immediate survival to moving forward. We will be looking at not only the extreme residential destruction, but also to the commercial and infrastructure damage.

As towns and cities confront the challenges of getting people back to work and businesses up and running, there will be significant risk management factors to consider for the construction, real estate investment, architecture and engineering industries.

Learning From the Sandy Rebuild

In the aftermath of Sandy, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and the U.S. Department of Housing’s Rebuild by Design competition fostered the development of innovative solutions to regional vulnerabilities. While the resulting approaches were unique to the region, the creative integrations are great models and might serve as inspiration for post-Harvey and Irma building.

Working in 199 Water Street in lower Manhattan, I saw firsthand the need for this inspiration following the wrath of Sandy and the very technical challenges that our building’s developer faced.  Allied World’s New York operations were temporarily displaced after the 35-story building where we are headquartered took on eight million gallons of seawater in its basement. Our developer, Jonathan D. Resnick, very eloquently captured the realities of that moment, saying, “You can’t fight the water. You have to adapt.”   

And adapt he did. Floodgates were installed between the exterior columns of the building, protecting utilities like the heating and cooling systems, and other utilities were relocated, prompting difficult decisions about space allocation. The building is stronger and better prepared for disaster today than before the storm.

As Sandy and Katrina showed us, a thoughtful rebuild is perhaps even more important than a speedy one. A thorough understanding of the issues at play and an informed plan for managing the associated risks will help safeguard companies and developers alike throughout the post-hurricane rebuilds and in the years that follow.

Joe Cellura, president, North American Casualty Division, Allied World

That should be our goal moving ahead — to be stronger after the storm.  To do this, developers, construction companies, architects, engineers and environmental experts must work together to manage the risks they face in the rebuild and to learn from lessons of past disaster rebuilds.

Here are the risk management issues to watch:

Construction Workforce Shortage

Simply finding qualified professionals to get the work done is going to be a challenge. The construction industry is already stretched thin. According to Associated General Contractors of America’s 2017 Workforce Survey, Texas has short supply of concrete workers, electricians, cement masons, carpenters, plumbers and installers. Florida contractors list the workplace shortage as their biggest concern.

Future Proofing Design and Construction

One of the biggest challenges will be for architects and engineers to learn from mistakes in the design phases.  That design endeavor will likely have to involve material zoning and land use regulations that could present quite a hurdle.

A smarter rebuild is imperative as we’ve now seen what went wrong with previous designs in the face of flooding. Should Houston ever flood again, there will be liability risks if buildings are not properly protected. The recently appointed Hurricane Harvey Recovery Czar, John Sharp, has said at his introduction by Texas Greg Abbott, “One of the guiding principles will be to future-proof what is being rebuilt so as to mitigate future risks as much as possible.”

Don Neff, president and CEO of LJP Construction Services and a construction risk management expert spoke about how to do just that: “’Future proofing the reconstruction effort following both Harvey and Irma will require more innovative and higher standards of care. Managing construction risk in anticipation of the next costly natural disaster will logically require not only more robust architectural and engineering solutions but also proactive quality assurance and quality control protocols over the entire delivery cycle. This includes objective third-party peer reviews of creative pre-construction designs; comprehensive tracking of during-construction assemblies to capture the quality before they are covered up; and methodical post-construction building maintenance activities.”

Environmental Exposure

There are a host of potential environmental issues in the aftermath of this hurricane season, and with the EPA short-staffed due to Trump administration firings, it’s not entirely clear if these concerns will have proper oversight.

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Houston is a petrochemical hub; the area is home to more than 450 plants, including refineries, as well as many hazardous waste disposal sites and Federal Superfund locations. Leaking chemicals and toxins in the floodwaters create similar environmental challenges to those seen after Katrina, and containment will be an active concern. ExxonMobil had two refineries damaged, and an Arkema plant experienced fires and chemical explosions after flooding knocked its power out. The pollution hazards from these and other local plants will have a notable impact on the area, with the added risk of environmental impacts that may become evident only over time.

Safety

Protecting workers from the hazards of rebuilding is a clear concern. New technology, including protective gear and drone operations, can and should be employed to safeguard workers and minimize safety risks. Following any catastrophic event, a major concern is structural damage, which traditionally requires a human to put themselves in an elevated and potentially dangerous situation.

Steven Fargo, CEO at DataWing Global, an unmanned aerial systems (“UAS”) services provider, explained the benefits of using drones to minimize risks, “Drones are perfect for mitigating this risk by quickly providing an aerial viewpoint inspection while keeping both feet on the ground. Drones are not limited to just visual information either. Post Hurricane Harvey and Irma, DataWing also used photogrammetry techniques to enable inspectors with 3D measurement capability. The result was better data delivered without risking human life.”

Public Private Partnerships

When handled properly, P3s can expedite projects, which would surely be helpful given the extensive rebuilding required. But who bears the revenue risk if things go wrong? There is inherent risk in these agreements because they involve transferring risk from the public entity to the private one, meaning the private sector will be financially responsible for any issues that arise. The result may be uneven liability on the part of the private sector and a long-term financial commitment for the private entity. Texas has P3 legislation, albeit inconsistent, and has completed several highway projects under the beneficial structure. State financing strains associated with Harvey recovery have the potential to slow important P3 initiatives in the pipeline. Conversely it will be argued that privately financed and operated P3 projects may be the only path forward to rebuild Houston infrastructure. Will Texas be able to implement P3 projects that reach beyond toll roads?  

Political Climate

Recent legislation from the Trump administration is speeding up the infrastructure approvals process, but with faster permits comes the potential for less quality control. An executive order signed on August 15 revoked regulations that would have required the federal government to take flood risk into account when constructing new infrastructure — and yes, this includes rebuilding after disasters.

Experts believe this means the rebuild will not be as safe or forward thinking as it could otherwise have been. Less regulation does not mean less risk — changes may ease the approvals process, but that may make managing risk harder. Companies will need to go beyond regulations when developing best practices.

Long-Tail Health Concerns

Experts predict a 15-20 year recovery, which means health concerns are likely to plague residents and workers for years to come. Among the top potential toxins are chemicals and heavy metals, mosquitoes and the diseases they carry, mental health, and damage to homes (particularly the lasting impact of mold).

Moving Forward

Just as the rebuild itself will take extensive resources, so will effective risk management. Teamwork between architects/engineers, owners/contractors, risk insurance consultants/brokers, insurance industry risk management teams and insurance underwriters will be essential.

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This will be a lengthy process.  Liabilities resulting from the rebuilds might not manifest themselves for a decade or more, so long-term risk transfer protections will be important. Along the way, consideration must be given to a full suite of risk management services, including contract review, drone operations, QA/QC services, work health and site safety reviews.

As Sandy and Katrina showed us, a thoughtful rebuild is perhaps even more important than a speedy one. A thorough understanding of the issues at play and an informed plan for managing the associated risks will help safeguard companies and developers alike throughout the post-hurricane rebuilds and in the years that follow.

Working together to manage risk, we can all be stronger after the storm.

Joe Cellura is President, North American Casualty, at Allied World, responsible for for the production and profitability of Primary Casualty, Excess Casualty, Environmental, Surety, Primary Construction and Programs. He can be reached at [email protected]

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.