Tag Archives: meteorology

Modeling Flood — the Peril of Inches

“Baseball is a game of inches” – Branch Rickey

Property damage because of flooding is quite different from any other catastrophic peril such as hurricane, tornado or earthquake. Unlike with those perils, estimating losses from flood requires a higher level of geospatial exactness. Not only do we need to know precisely where that property is located and the distance to the nearest potential flooding source, but we also need to know the elevation of the property in comparison to its nearby surroundings and the source of flooding. Underwriting flood insurance is a game of inches, not ZIP codes.

With flood, a couple feet can make the difference between being in a flood zone or not, and a few inches of elevation can increase or decrease loss estimates by orders of magnitude. This realization helps explain the current financial mess of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). In hindsight, even if the NFIP had perfect actuarial knowledge about the risk of flood, its destiny was preordained simply because it lacked other necessary tools.

This might make the reader believe that insuring flood is essentially impossible. Until just a few years ago, you’d be right. But, since then, interesting stuff has happened.

In the past decade, technologies like data storage, processing, modeling and remote sensing (i.e. mapping) have improved incredibly. All of a sudden it is possible to measure and store all topographical features of the U.S. — it has been done. Throw in analytical servers able to process trillions of calculations in seconds, and all of a sudden processing massive amounts of data is relatively easy. Meanwhile, the science around flood modeling, including meteorology, hydrology and topology, has been developed in a way that the new geospatial information and processing power can be used to produce models that have real predictive capabilities. These are not your grandfather’s flood maps. There are now models and analytics that provide estimates for frequency AND severity of flood loss for a specific location, an incredible leap forward from zone or ZIP code averaging. Like baseball, flood insurance is also a game of inches. And now it’s also a game that can be played and profited from by astute insurance professionals.

For the underwriting of insurance, having dependable frequency and severity loss estimates at a location level is gold. There is no single flood model that will provide all the answers, but there is definitely enough data, models and information available to determine frequency and severity metrics for flood to enable underwriters to segment exposure effectively. Low-, moderate- and high-risk exposures can be discerned and segregated, which means risk–based, actuarial pricing can be confidently implemented. The available data and risk models can also drive the design of flood mitigation actions (with accurate credit incentives attached to them) and marketing campaigns.

With the new generation of models, all three types of flooding can be evaluated, either individually or as a composite, and have their risk segmented appropriately. The available geospatial datasets and analytics support estimations of flood levels, flood depths and the likelihood of water entering a property by knowing the elevation of the structure, floors of occupancy and the relationship between the two.

In the old days, if your home was in a FEMA A or V zone but you were possibly safe from their “base flood” (a hypothetical 1% annual probability flood), you’d have to spend hundreds of dollars to get an elevation certificate and then petition the NFIP, at further cost, hoping to get a re-designation of your home. Today, it’s not complicated to place the structure in a geospatial model and estimate flood likelihood and depths in a way that can be integrated with actuarial information to calculate rates – each building getting rated based on where it is, where the water is and the likelihood of the water inundating the building.

In fact, the new models have essentially made the FEMA flood maps irrelevant in flood loss analysis. We don’t need to evaluate what flood zone the property is in. We just need an address. Homeowners don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars for elevation certificates; the models already have that data stored. Indeed, much of the underwriting required to price flood risk can be handled with two to three additional questions on a standard homeowners insurance application, saving the homeowner, agent and carrier time and frustration. The process we envision would create a distinctive competitive advantage for the enterprising carrier and one that would create and capture real value throughout the distribution chain, if done correctly. This is what disruption looks like before it happens.

In summary, the tools are now available to measure and price flood risk. Capital is flooding (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves) into the insurance sector, seeking opportunities to be put to work. While we understand the skepticism of the industry to handle flood, the risk can be understood well enough to create products that people desperately need. Insuring flood would be a shot in the arm to an industry that has become stale at offering anything new. Billions of dollars of premium are waiting for the industry to capitalize on. One thing the current data and analytics make clear is this: There are high-, medium- and low-risk locations waiting to be insured based on actuarial methods. As long as flood insurance is being rated by zone (whether it is FEMA zone or Zipcode), there is cherry-picking to be done.

Who wants to get their ladder up the cherry tree first? And who will be last?

Hurricane Sandy – Do Not Underestimate Impact

Over the next few days, you’re going to read a number of comparisons between the current Hurricane Sandy and August 2011’s Hurricane Irene. Firestorm urges you to read and take these comparisons seriously, as Irene killed 56 people with US costs upwards of $15.6 billion in damages. The total damages are still being felt.

Sandy, sadly, has the potential to be “the Perfect Storm.” Some meteorologists say a rare combination of events — Hurricane Sandy combined with an outbreak of unseasonably cold air, and a strong land-based storm system — could deliver flooding rains, damaging winds of near-hurricane force, large waves, and even heavy snow inland.

This Public Discussion details meteorological observations as of 5PM Thursday evening, 10/25:

“…Later in the period … some re-intensification is shown as Sandy deepens again off the U.S. East Coast while it interacts with another shortwave trough. Regardless … Sandy is expected to be a large cyclone at or near hurricane intensity through most of the forecast period.

“… Sandy will be pulled northwestward and slow down on Friday while it interacts with the upper-level low. Then a north-northeastward acceleration is expected by Saturday as a long-wave trough move into the eastern United States. Most of the track models now show a turn back toward the northwest by the end of the period due to Sandy interacting with an amplifying shortwave trough over the Carolinas and mid Atlantic states. However … there remain some significant differences in the timing of this interaction … as the ECMWF has Sandy farther west and interacting with the shortwave sooner relative to most of the rest of the guidance … which shows a wider turn and a track farther north. The new NHC forecast is close to the previous one … and lies roughly between the ECMWF and the GFS ensemble mean. Regardless of the exact track of Sandy … it is likely that significant impacts will be felt over portions of the U.S. East Coast through the weekend and into early next week.”

Firestorm’s Jim Satterfield states:

“While Sandy’s pattern is similar to last year’s hurricane, the water temperature is lower and wind impact may be less. Even given lower winds, flooding is extremely likely and combined with down trees and the possibility of ice, loss of power is expected as the hurricane moves inland. For businesses, now is the time to reconfirm call in numbers and messaging. The European model shows that Sandy has the potential to become a massive storm. If this model is correct, outages could be in days and even weeks.”

Rainfall Potential

Hurricane Sandy Potential Rainfall

Hurricane Sandy Potential Rainfall

As reported by the Associated Press, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said he expected to receive by Friday from the state's major utility companies, emergency plans for how they will deal with the storm.

The utilities came under intense criticism last year following widespread and long-lasting power outages caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene in August and a surprise October snowstorm.

Asked during his monthly “Ask the Governor” show on WTKK-FM if he expected utilities to be more prepared for this storm, Patrick responded: “They'd better be.”

Patrick signed a law earlier this year that requires utilities to dramatically improve communications with their customers during emergencies. Many residents and municipal officials in areas hard-hit by last year's storm complained that they were unable to get accurate information from companies about when power might be restored.

The law requires the utilities to establish call centers that would be staffed around the clock after major storms to handle inquiries from customers about power restoration. Failure of any investor-owned utility to carry out an order by the chairman (authorized under section 4B of the General Laws of the Commonwealth CHAPTER 25 DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC UTILITIES) shall be subject to investigation and a penalty of up to $1,000,000 per violation.

In a statement from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on the NY-Alert website, the Governor directed the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to closely monitor the progress of Hurricane Sandy and prepare for potential storm impacts. Although the storm track is still uncertain, Hurricane Sandy has the potential to affect many parts of New York State with a variety of threats, including heavy rain, high winds, flooding, tornadoes, coastal surges, and widespread power outages.

“I have directed state agencies and New York's emergency operations personnel to begin preparations now for the potential impact of Hurricane Sandy,” Governor Cuomo said. “I urge all New Yorkers to closely track the storm's path, using local radio and television or online reports. We will actively monitor the storm's progress and take any steps necessary to protect our state's residents.”

Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) is hiring 2,000 contractors from the Midwest and United Illuminating is hiring hundreds of workers to help respond to Sandy if the storm hits the state. CL&P provides power to more than a million residences and businesses, and is warning its residential customers to prepare a home emergency kit and has begun reaching out to local officials to update them on how the company will respond if there are widespread power outages.

In Maryland, Baltimore County government is holding an emergency preparedness press conference at 1:30 p.m. Friday, in which county emergency personnel will update residents on response plans and Baltimore Gas and Electric Vice President for Corporate Communications Rob Gould will detail the utility company's preparedness plans.

Businesses Should Prepare Now
Firestorm Solutions, a nationally recognized leader in Continuity Planning, Critical Decision Support, Crisis Response, Crisis Management, Crisis Communications, Crisis Public Relations, and Consequence Management, urges businesses to review business continuity plans, and to communicate with employees and vendors to prepare for labor shortages, supply chain interruptions, power and technology systems back-ups, and other critical system and process interruptions:

  • Recovery prioritization structure for critical business functions
  • Response and recovery actions by functional department
  • Identification of critical suppliers
  • Identification of key employees and contacts

The crisis management team should include the CEO, senior officers, and key personnel representing operations, security, marketing, human resources and public information. The senior business continuity officer and his staff facilitate the crisis management discussion and decision making.

Depending on the severity of the crisis, a command center is set up including PC's, white boards, and phone lines. As status information flows into the command center, it is useful to record it on the white board for the crisis team to see at a glance.

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Roles and Responsibilities in a Crisis

  • Human Resources is charged with updating employee information phone recordings and web site with status and instructions.
  • The security officer should communicate with fire and law enforcement, if necessary.
  • Marketing should develop customer communications, and public information should craft carefully worded statements for the media/social media outlets.
  • It is imperative that media inquiries be referred to an experienced, designated spokesperson.
  • The secretary to the board or CEO should inform directors, when appropriate.
  • The command center is staffed around the clock, and team members are rotated until the crisis passes and full recovery is completed.

Time is of the essence in crisis management, and it deserves its own plan specifying participant responsibilities. A measure of success is that the dimensions of the crisis are known and recovery activities are begun within the first few hours. In the absence of a tested crisis management plan, the crisis management process can be a turbulent and reactive instead of a calm and productive experience.

Incident/Emergency Response Plan
Implementing an emergency response plan enables a timely response to a disruptive event, with the objective of protecting people and property, while enabling an efficient recovery effort that satisfies stakeholder expectations. Firestorm's Emergency Response Team, which can be reached at 800.321.2219, is available to assist with:

  • Establishing emergency response objectives and assumptions.
  • Developing emergency response team roles and responsibilities.
  • Identifying primary / alternate assignments.
  • Collecting emergency response team contact information and documenting call tree procedures.
  • Designing a triggering process, escalation criteria and declaration criteria; establishing and documenting authority levels.
  • Documenting actions by phases, disruption or crisis for incident response at the impacted site.
  • Documenting or attaching evacuation and shelter-in-place procedures.
  • Developing and documenting response procedures that align to the emergency response objectives and assumptions; developing processes to enable recovery procedures.
  • Establishing and documenting communications strategies to internal and external resources/ stakeholders; summarizing media handling procedures; documenting crisis communications holding statements.
  • Creating a damage assessment process and assigning personnel.

For Business Preparedness
The Firestorm Hurricane Sandy Business Crisis Management Response Team is available now at 800.321.2219.

For Individual Preparedness
Firestorm offers its eBook at no charge: Disaster Ready People for a Disaster Ready America.