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What Property Insurers Can Learn From Life Insurers – Part II

When customers are informed on the issues that can impact their flood risk, they are better positioned to manage the risk and avoid unanticipated large losses.
By: | March 1, 2018 • 4 min read

Part II in a Series: Lessons for Flood Risk Management
(Read Part I here)

A life insurer is considering policies for two men, both 35 years old and similarly overweight based on standard height and weight charts. Upon initial assessment, they present similar risk, meriting similar premiums. But as clinical data comes in, it becomes clear that while they weigh about the same, one man is an athlete with significant muscle mass and low cholesterol; the other carries more weight around his mid-section and has high cholesterol, making him a much greater risk. The two policies now carry significantly different premiums.  

Now consider two inland flood underwriters assessing two similar looking multi-story structures. Common practice will typically examine (1) where each building sits on a FEMA flood map (which categorizes wide swaths of land based on flood hazard) and (2) what, if any, past flood losses the building has seen. In this case both buildings are categorized as being in Zone “X” by FEMA, and both have little in the way of past losses.

If the property underwriter stops there, the risks appear very much the same. But much of the story will remain untold. As with the life insurance underwriting scenario, more relevant data specific to the buildings can create pivotal differentiation between risks and reduce surprises when the flood event occurs.

Flood Zone ≠ Flood Risk

Two buildings may fall into the same large flood zone, but could react quite differently in a flood, resulting in markedly different losses and recovery times.  
Photo credit: Julie Dermansky

Traditional flood models measure the potential flood depth (for each return period) at a building’s location relative to its ground elevation. However, the elevation level of a building’s finished first floor can vary significantly from the underlying ground level. This distinction is important in determining how much flooding could be expected in a particular building and can make two structures in the same large flood zone markedly different flood risks.

Additionally, what’s inside the building – and where – matters too.  One building may have a basement, while another may not. One may house critical mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems in the basement. The other may house these systems on higher floors.  All else being similar between the two buildings, the one with MEP systems on higher floors will likely fare much better in a flooding event.

Akshay Gupta, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance

Hurricane Sandy underscored the massive damage, particularly time element losses, that can result when floodwaters, and more so saltwater, swamp MEP systems. Major city skyscrapers were taken out of commission for months in some cases due to basement and ground floor flooding that would have been relatively inconsequential – had it not been for the MEP systems housed there.

More recently, when Hurricane Harvey dropped more than 40 inches of rainfall in Houston, many commercial assets suffered significant loss, primarily business interruption, due to flooding of underground parking lots and basements. One particular asset was spared major structural damage, but floodwaters flowed into its underground parking lot and the basement — which housed mechanical and electrical equipment. Despite dodging major structural damage, the facility is not expected to resume normal operations until nearly a year after the event – a costly interruption that would have been greatly minimized if critical systems were above grade.

While elevating the habitable space for an entire structure can minimize potential damages, such a move is costly for many existing commercial buildings. It is, however, observed at industrial facilities where critical assets, such as MCCs, can be entirely elevated. Moving critical systems and higher value items from a lower level floor to a higher one is a more economical way to mitigate potential flood damage and help ensure business continuity for conventional commercial buildings.

Awareness = Avoidance

Sanjay Godhwani, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance

At BHSI, we believe that when customers are informed on the issues that can impact inland (or hurricane induced) flood exposure, they are better positioned to manage the risk and avoid unanticipated large losses.  When we work closely with our customers to assess flood risks, they can be confident that they are receiving the best possible pricing and limits for their particular exposure.

Our flood insurance pricing algorithm is built to differentiate flood risk based on how high a building’s finished floor is relative to the adjacent ground (i.e., bare ground level versus finished floor level.) We always inquire whether a location has a basement; the answer can result in a significantly different premium for a customer. We also differentiate flood risks by examining each building’s floor-by-floor TIV distribution.  This allows us to give credit (or premium discounts) to buildings that have critical systems located on higher floors.

It’s all part of our commitment to help customers mitigate their flood losses and ensure that they secure the right flood coverage for their risk, at the right price, year after year.

To learn more, visit https://bhspecialty.com/.

The information contained herein is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any product or service. Any description set forth herein does not include all policy terms, conditions and exclusions. Please refer to the actual policy for complete details of coverage and exclusions.


This article was produced by Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance and not the Risk & Insurance® editorial team.

Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance (www.bhspecialty.com) provides commercial property, casualty, healthcare professional liability, executive and professional lines, surety, travel, programs, medical stop loss and homeowners insurance.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Risk All Stars

Stop Mitigating Risk. Start Conquering It Like These 2018 Risk All Stars

The concept of risk mastery and ownership, as displayed by the 2018 Risk All Stars, includes not simply seeking to control outcomes but taking full responsibility for them.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 3 min read

People talk a lot about how risk managers can get a seat at the table. The discussion implies that the risk manager is an outsider, striving to get the ear or the attention of an insider, the CEO or CFO.


But there are risk managers who go about things in a different way. And the 2018 Risk All Stars are prime examples of that.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Goodyear’s Craig Melnick had only been with the global tire maker a few months when Hurricane Harvey dumped a record amount of rainfall on Houston.

Brilliant communication between Melnick and his new teammates gave him timely and valuable updates on the condition of manufacturing locations. Melnick remained in Akron, mastering the situation by moving inventory out of the storm’s path and making sure remediation crews were lined up ahead of time to give Goodyear its best leg up once the storm passed and the flood waters receded.

Goodyear’s resiliency in the face of the storm gave it credibility when it went to the insurance markets later that year for renewals. And here is where we hear a key phrase, produced by Kevin Garvey, one of Goodyear’s brokers at Aon.

“The markets always appreciate a risk manager who demonstrates ownership,” Garvey said, in what may be something of an understatement.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Dianne Howard, a 2018 Risk All Star and the director of benefits and risk management for the Palm Beach County School District, achieved ownership of $50 million in property storm exposures for the district.

With FEMA saying it wouldn’t pay again for district storm losses it had already paid for, Howard went to the London markets and was successful in getting coverage. She also hammered out a deal in London that would partially reimburse the district if it suffered a mass shooting and needed to demolish a building, like what happened at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

2018 Risk All Star Jim Cunningham was well-versed enough to know what traditional risk management theories would say when hospitality workers were suffering too many kitchen cuts. “Put a cut-prevention plan in place,” is the traditional wisdom.

But Cunningham, the vice president of risk management for the gaming company Pinnacle Entertainment, wasn’t satisfied with what looked to him like a Band-Aid approach.


Instead, he used predictive analytics, depending on his own team to assemble company-specific data, to determine which safety measures should be used company wide. The result? Claims frequency at the company dropped 60 percent in the first year of his program.

Alumine Bellone, a 2018 Risk All Star and the vice president of risk management for Ardent Health Services, faced an overwhelming task: Create a uniform risk management program when her hospital group grew from 14 hospitals in three states to 31 hospitals in seven.

Bellone owned the situation by visiting each facility right before the acquisition and again right after, to make sure each caregiving population was ready to integrate into a standardized risk management system.

After consolidating insurance policies, Bellone achieved $893,000 in synergies.

In each of these cases, and in more on the following pages, we see examples of risk managers who weren’t just knocking on the door; they were owning the room. &


Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

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