Category Archives: Disaster Preparedness

Less Severe Wildfire Season Seen; But No Less Vigilance Is Required

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

This wildfire season is expected to be less intense than normal, but people in high-risk areas should be aware of and prepared for potential damage, according to Craig Clements, a professor of meteorology and climate science at San José State University.

“There are days people really need to be careful,” said Dr. Clements, who directs the Wildfire Interdisciplinary Research Center and is a Triple-I non-resident scholar. “High fire days are typically hot, dry, and windy. If there’s ignition, these fires can spread quickly, depending on the fuel type.”

Despite record-breaking conflagrations across the Northern Hemisphere in recent years, U.S. wildfire frequency (number of fires) and severity (acres burned) have been declining in recent years and in 2023 were among the lowest in the past two decades.

While that trend is positive – reflecting progress in prevention of human-ignited wildfires – it isn’t a reason for complacency.  Another long-term trend has been the doubling of the share of natural catastrophe insured losses from wildfires over the past 30 years, according to Swiss Re. This reflects the impact of a growing number of people living in the wildland-urban interface – the zone of transition between unoccupied and developed land, where structures and human activity intermingle with wildland and vegetative fuels.

A 2022 study in the journal Frontiers in Human Dynamics found that people are moving to areas that are increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires.

“They’re attracted by maybe a beautiful, forested mountain landscape and lower housing costs somewhere in the wildland-urban interface,” said University of Vermont environmental scientist Mahalia Clark, the paper’s lead author. “But they’re just totally unaware that wildfire is something they should even think about.”

To prepare, people should keep an eye out on the National Weather Service, social media, or watch the news, to ensure they are ready for any potential risks, and be on the lookout for Red Flag Warning days.

Dr. Clements also recommends referring to the National Interagency Fire Center website, which is updated daily for fire risks in particular regions. Triple-I suggests looking into the Wildfire Prepared Home designation program, which helps homeowners take protective measures for their home and yard to mitigate wildfire risks.

It’s also important for homeowners to remember that, following wildfires, rains can result in landslides and debris flows that often are not covered by insurance policies. It’s especially important to understand the difference between “mudslides” and “mudflow” and to discuss your coverage with an insurance professional.

Learn more:

2024 Wildfires Expected to Be Up From Last Year, But Still Below Average

Tamping Down Wildfire Threats: How Insurers Can Mitigate Risks and Losses

Mudslides Often Follow Wildfire; Prepare, Know Insurance Implications

Triple-I “State of the Risk” Issues Brief: Wildfires: State of the Risk

N.J. Quake a Wake-Up Call for Seismic Mitigation, Resilience Investment

Residents and police gather outside of homes in Newark, N.J., that were damaged by a 4.8 magnitude earthquake on April 5. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Last week’s earthquake in Lebanon, N.J.  –  the strongest to hit the state in more than 200 years and which halted activity in New York-area airports and was felt from Washington, D.C., to Maine – highlighted the importance of earthquake preparedness, mitigation, and insurance in areas traditionally not associated with damaging seismic activity.

Earthquake insurance is not covered under a standard homeowners policy. According to A.M. Best, $250 million in direct premiums written for earthquake coverage was in force in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York in 2023, accounting for less than 5 percent of U.S. earthquake coverage premiums.

Claims from last week’s event are not expected to be excessive.

“Insurers may be anticipating small claims from owners of businesses,” said Janet Ruiz, Triple-I director of strategic communication. “For example, grocery stores, where glass bottles may have fallen from shelves. But the insurance impact is likely to be limited.”

The most significant impact occurred in Newark, N.J., where three multifamily row homes were declared uninhabitable because of potential structural damage, displacing dozens of residents. However, on Saturday morning, the properties were declared structurally safe and residents were allowed to return.

Earthquakes large enough to be felt by a lot of people are relatively uncommon on the East Coast. Since 1950 there have been about 20 quakes with a magnitude above 4.5, according to the United States Geological Survey. That’s compared with over 1,000 on the West Coast.

In 2011, a 5.8 magnitude quake near Mineral, Va., shook East Coast residents over a wide swath from Georgia to Maine and even southeastern Canada. The USGS called it one of the most widely felt quakes in North American history. The quake cost $200 to $300 million in property damages, including to the Washington Monument in D.C., much of it uninsured.

Just as floods can inflict damage in areas not designated by FEMA as “flood zones,” any property where a quake can happen can undergo significant damage. Unlike in earthquake-prone states like California, however, structures typically are not designed or built with seismic events in mind. Homeowners would be well advised to discuss with their insurance professionals whether earthquake coverage is right for them.

Last week’s temblor also should drive awareness of the need for Congress to reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) – a federal program that helps mitigate earthquake damage to buildings and communities. The NEHRP expired in September 2023. Bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the program was introduced in January 2024.

“I’ve seen what happens when communities aren’t prepared and haven’t mitigated,” said Dr. Lucy Arendt, a professor with St. Norbert College and Chair of the NEHRP Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction, in a March 7 congressional briefing hosted by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS). “People are displaced from their homes. Schools are closed. Businesses shutter. There’s a lot of trauma.”

Arendt said investment in knowledge, time, and money prior to a severe disaster is significantly less than the cost to help communities recover from a major threat.

“There is a resilience gap between where we are today and where we should be as a resilient nation,” said Daniel Kaniewski, a former FEMA deputy administrator and member of the NIBS Multi-Hazard Mitigation Council. “I saw firsthand the collapse of infrastructure. These are things you might not see because it’s buried underground. But without water and power, that community cannot recover. Lifeline infrastructure needs to be restored quickly and efficiently.”

Most of the built environment is not designed to withstand earthquakes. Communities with weak building codes, older housing stock, unreinforced masonry buildings, and unmitigated hazards will fare worse than others, Kaniewski said.

“This, combined with the potential severe human toll, means that any U.S. earthquake could have catastrophic consequences that would reverberate well beyond the impact zone,” he added. “Damage to manufacturing facilities, transportation nodes, and communications networks and disrupted supply chains would be among the long list of cascading failures. Massive government spending would be necessary” to repair in the aftermath of such an event.

Learn More:

Triple-I Backgrounder on Earthquake Risk

Triple-I Facts & Statistics: Earthquakes and Tsunamis

Earthquakes: You Can’t Predict Them, But You Can Prepare

California Earthquakes: How Modern Building Codes Are Making Safer, More Resilient Communities

CSU Researchers Project “Extremely Active”
2024 Hurricane Season

Colorado State University hurricane researchers predict an “extremely active” Atlantic hurricane season in their initial 2024 forecast. The team cites record-warm tropical and eastern subtropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures as a primary factor for their prediction of 11 hurricanes this year.

Led by senior research scientist and Triple-I non-resident scholar Phil Klotzbach, Ph.D, the CSU Tropical Meteorology Project forecasts 23 named storms, 11 hurricanes, and five major hurricanes during the 2024 season, which starts on June 1 and continues through Nov. 30. A typical Atlantic season has 14 named storms, seven hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.

The 2023 season produced 20 named storms and seven hurricanes. Three reached “major hurricane” intensity. Major hurricanes are defined as those with wind speeds reaching Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.

“We anticipate a well above-average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States coastline and in the Caribbean this season,” Klotzbach said. “Current El Niño conditions are likely to transition to La Niña conditions this summer/fall, leading to hurricane-favorable wind-shear conditions. Sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central Atlantic are currently at record-warm levels and are anticipated to remain well above average for the upcoming hurricane season. A warmer-than-normal tropical Atlantic provides a more conducive dynamic and thermodynamic environment for hurricane formation and intensification.”

One hurricane and two tropical storms made continental U.S. landfalls last year. Category 3 Hurricane Idalia struck Florida’s Big Bend region near Keaton Beach on Aug. 30 with wind speeds of 115 mph. It was the third hurricane, and second major hurricane, to make a Florida landfall over the past two seasons. Idalia caused storm surge inundation of 7 to 12 feet and widespread flooding in Florida and throughout the Southeast. 

“The widespread damage incurred from Idalia last year highlighted the importance of being financially protected from catastrophic losses – and that includes having adequate levels of property insurance and flood coverage,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan. “Beyond Florida, we saw significant impacts from Idalia in southern Georgia and the Carolinas. All it takes is one storm to make it an active season for you and your family, so it is time to prepare as the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season’s start nears.”

With this forecast in mind, now is ideal time for homeowners and business owners to review their policies with an insurance professional to ensure they have the right amount and types of coverage. That includes exploring whether they need flood coverage, which is not part of a standard homeownerscondorenters or business insurance policy.

Flood policies are offered through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and dozens of private insurers.

Homeowners also can make their residences more resilient to windstorms and torrential rain by installing roof tie-downs and a good drainage system. Installation of a wind-rated garage door and storm shutters also boost a home’s resilience to a hurricane’s damaging winds and may generate savings on a homeowner’s insurance premium.

Private-passenger vehicles damaged or destroyed by either wind or flooding are covered under the optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy.

Learn More:

Triple-I “State of the Risk” Issues Brief: Hurricanes

Triple-I “State of the Risk” Issues Brief: Flood

FEMA Highlights Role of Modern Roofs in Preventing Hurricane Damage

Hurricanes Drive Louisiana Insured Losses, Insurer Insolvencies

INFOGRAPHICS

What are Hurricane Deductibles?

How to Prepare for Hurricane Season

How to File a Flood Insurance Claim

Is Your Business Ready for Peak Hurricane Season?

Coastal New Jersey Town Regains Class 3 NFIP Rating

Sea Isle City, N.J., has regained its Class 3 rating under FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Community Rating System (CRS) after a brief demotion last year. Being rated Class 3 enables the coastal town’s property owners to receive a 35 percent discount on their federal flood insurance.

CRS is a voluntary incentive-based program designed to encourage strong floodplain management. Class 1 is the highest rating, enabling residents to obtain a 45 percent reduction in their premiums. Class 10 indicates that a community doesn’t participate in CRS. To date, only two of the 1,500 participating communities nationwide have achieved the highest rating: Tulsa, Okla., and Roseville, Calif.

High ratings are not easy to obtain or maintain. Sea Isle City first reached Class 3 in 2018, and the rating was briefly lowered to Class 4 last year after points awarded to communities after Superstorm Sandy expired. The city quickly regained Class 3 status through additional flood-management activities.

In the mid-1990s, conditions were so bad for Sea Isle City that it was nearly ejected from the NFIP. If this had happened, property owners wouldn’t have had access to federal flood insurance. Neil Byrne, the city’s floodplain manager, construction official, building sub-code official, and zoning officer, attributes the improvement to strengthened zoning ordinances that require structures to be elevated higher than FEMA recommends, as well as investment in berms and bulkheads.

“The history of Sea Isle City going from facing expulsion from the NFIP to now leading the charge in the CRS in New Jersey is truly inspirational,” said Thomas Song, FEMA resiliency specialist.  “What does not get enough attention is that success in the CRS program has to start with a strong understanding of the day-to-day compliance with NFIP requirements. It is extremely difficult to advance in CRS status without a strong foundation in floodplain-management practices.”

Achieving higher CRS rankings has become something of a friendly competition among coastal New Jersey towns, and only one other New Jersey community – Avalon – has a Class 3.

“Both Sea Isle City and Avalon have demonstrated their commitment in planning for future flooding, implementing higher building standards, and engaging in extensive public outreach,” Song said. “These efforts create an environment geared towards reducing flood damage and enhancing the safety and well-being of residents.”

As NFIP – through its Risk Rating 2.0 reforms – attempts to better align premium rates with risk, CRS discounts become even more significant to owners in flood-prone communities.

Last year, 17 Florida jurisdictions achieved Class 3 ratings. In Cutler Bay – a town on Miami’s southern flank with about 45,000 residents – the average premium dropped by $338. Citywide, that represented a savings of $2.3 million. In January 2024, Miami-Dade County became the latest municipality in the flood- and hurricane-prone state to achieve Class 3, leapfrogging from Class 5 due to the county’s flood-mitigation investments.

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey, Byrne says Sea Isle City hopes to become the state’s first Class 2 community.

“It’s very hard to get to the next level,” he said, but adds that flood pumps could help the city over the hump.

“Ninety-nine percent of our flooding is tidal flooding,” Byrne said, referring to inundation that happens during high tide events. “A lot of it goes away on its own, but we have little areas that need help getting the water out.”

About 90 percent of all U.S. natural disasters involve flooding. For decades, NFIP was practically the only available option for homeowners to obtain flood coverage. Before Risk Rating 2.0, however, coverage for higher-risk properties was often unfairly subsidized by lower-risk property owners.

In recent years, improved data, analysis, and modeling have helped drive increased private-sector interest in flood risk. This, combined with the NFIP reforms, should foster a more competitive flood insurance market in which coverage is both more available and more fairly priced.

“Collective responsibility and multi-disciplinary collaboration are necessary to build resilience around climate-related perils like flood,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan. “FEMA’s CRS program is just one example of how communities can make themselves safer and save money through targeted investments that reduce the likelihood and size of catastrophic losses.”

 Learn More:

Triple-I “State of the Risk” Issues Brief: Flood

FEMA Reauthorization Session Highlights Importance of Risk Transfer and Reduction

Miami-Dade, Fla., Sees Flood-Insurance Rate Cuts, Thanks to Resilience Investment

FEMA Incentive Program Helps Communities Reduce Flood Insurance Rates for Their Citizens

Proposed Flood Zone Expansion Would Increase Need for Private Insurance

Evolving Risks Demand Integrated Approaches

Even as the Smokehouse Creek Fire – the largest wildfire ever to burn across Texas – was declared “nearly contained” this week, the Texas A&M Service warned that conditions are such that the remaining blazes could spread and even more might break out.

“Today, the fire environment will support the potential for multiple, high impact, large wildfires that are highly resistant to control” in the Texas Panhandle, the service said.

This year’s historic Texas fires – like the state’s 2021 anomalous winter storms, California’s recent flooding after years of drought, and a surge in insured losses due to severe convective storms across the United States – underscore the variability of climate-related perils and the need for insurers to be able to adapt their underwriting and pricing to reflect this dynamic environment. It also highlights the importance of using advanced data capabilities to help risk managers better understand the sources and behaviors of these events in order to predict and prevent losses.

For example, Whisker Labs – a company whose advanced sensor network helps monitor home fire perils, as well as tracking faults in the U.S. power grid – recorded about 50 such faults in Texas ahead of the Smokehouse Creek fires.

Bob Marshall, Whisker Labs founder and chief executive, told the Wall Street Journal that evidence suggests Xcel Energy’s equipment was not durable enough to withstand the kind of extreme weather the nation and world increasingly face. Xcel – a major utility with operations in Texas and other states — has acknowledged that its power lines and equipment “appear to have been involved in an ignition of the Smokehouse Creek fire.”

“We know from many recent wildfires that the consequences of poor grid resilience can be catastrophic,” said Marshall, noting that his company’s sensor network recorded similar malfunctions in Maui before last year’s deadly blaze that ripped across the town of Lahaina.

Role of government

Government has a critical role to play in addressing the risk crisis. Modernizing building and land-use codes; revising statutes that facilitate fraud and legal system abuse that drive up claim costs; investing in infrastructure to reduce costly damage related to storms – these and other avenues exist for state and federal government to aid disaster mitigation and resilience.

Too often, however, the public discussion frames the current situation as an “insurance crisis” – confusing cause with effect. Legislators, spurred by calls from their constituents for lower premiums, often propose measures that would tend to worsen the problem because they fail to reflect the importance of accurately valuing risk when pricing coverage.

The federal “reinsurance” proposal put forth in January by U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of California is a case in point. If enacted, it would dismantle the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and create a “catastrophic property loss reinsurance program” that, among other things, would set coverage thresholds and dictate rating factors based on input from a board in which the insurance industry is only nominally represented.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (also of California) has proposed a Wildfire Insurance Coverage Study Act to research issues around insurance availability and affordability in wildfire-prone communities. During  House Financial Services Committee deliberations, Waters compared current challenges in these communities to conditions related to flood risk that led to the establishment of NFIP in 1968. She said there is a precedent for the federal government to step in when there is a “private market failure.”

However, flood risk in 1968 and wildfire risk in 2024 could not be more different. Before FEMA established the NFIP, private insurers were generally unwilling to underwrite flood risk because the peril was considered too unpredictable. The rise of sophisticated computer modeling has since given private insurers much greater confidence covering flood (see chart).

In California, some insurers have begun rethinking their appetite for writing homeowners insurance – not because wildfire losses make properties in the state uninsurable but because policy and regulatory decisions made over 30 years ago have made it hard to write the coverage profitably. Specifically, Proposition 103 and its regulatory implementation have blocked the use of modeling to inform underwriting and pricing and restricted insurers’ ability to incorporate reinsurance costs into their premium pricing.

California’s Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara last year announced a Sustainable Insurance Strategy for the state that includes allowing insurers to use forward-looking risk models that prioritize wildfire safety and mitigation and include reinsurance costs into their pricing. It is reasonable to expect that Lara’s modernization plan will lead to insurers increasing their business in the state.

It’s understandable that California legislators are eager to act on climate risk, given their long history with drought, fire, landslides and more recent experience with flooding due to “atmospheric rivers.” But it’s important that any such measures be well thought out and not exacerbate existing problems.

Partners in resilience

Insurers have been addressing climate-related risks for decades, using advanced data and analytical tools to inform underwriting and pricing to ensure sufficient funds exist to pay claims. They also have a natural stake in predicting and preventing losses, rather than just continuing to assess and pay for mounting claims.

As such, they are ideal partners for businesses, communities, governments, and nonprofits – anyone with a stake in climate risk and resilience. Triple-I is engaged in numerous projects aimed at uniting diverse parties in this effort. If you represent an organization that is working to address the risk crisis and your efforts would benefit from involvement with the insurance industry, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us with a brief description of your work and how the insurance industry might help.

Learn More:

Triple-I “State of the Risk” Issues Brief: Wildfire

Triple-I “State of the Risk” Issues Brief: Flood

Triple-I “Trends and Insights” Issues Brief: California’s Risk Crisis

Triple-I “Trends and Insights” Issues Brief: Risk-Based Pricing of Insurance

Stemming a Rising Tide: How Insurers Can Close the Flood Protection Gap

Tamping Down Wildfire Threats

NAIC, FIO to Collaborate on Data Collection Around Climate Risk

When the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Insurance Office (FIO) announced in December 2022 that it was considering a new data-reporting mandate for certain property/casualty insurers, it raised red flags for insurers and policyholders.

In response to a request for comments on the proposed data call, Triple-I told FIO the requested data would be duplicative, could lead to misleading conclusions, and – by increasing insurers’ operational costs – would ultimately lead to higher premium rates for policyholders.

“Fulfilling this new mandate would require insurers to pull existing staff from the work they already are doing or hire staff to do the new work, increasing their operational costs,” Triple-I wrote. “As FIO well knows, state-by-state regulation prevents insurers from ‘tweaking’ their cash flows in response to change the way more lightly regulated industries can. Higher costs inevitably drive increases in policyholder premium rates.”

In its own response, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) emphasized the importance of collaboration with the industry to avoid such unintended consequences.

“While we recognize the Treasury’s desire to better understand the impact of climate risk and weather-related exposures on the availability and affordability of the homeowners’ insurance market,” NAIC wrote, “we are disappointed and concerned that Treasury chose not to engage insurance regulators in a credible exercise to identify data elements gathered by either the industry or the regulatory community.”

FIO has listened and responded appropriately. The agency has abandoned its plan to gather data on home insurance rates and availability in high-risk states. Instead, NAIC announced that it has implemented a nationwide Property & Casualty Market Intelligence Data Call (PCMI) in collaboration with FIO.

“The PCMI data call represents the collaborative, nonpartisan work that state insurance regulators have undertaken through the NAIC to address the critical challenge of the affordability and availability of homeowners’ insurance and the financial health of insurance companies,” said NAIC president Andrew Mais, who also serves as Connecticut’s insurance commissioner.

The change in approach is important both on its own merits – in ensuring that FIO obtains the information it needs without excessively and unnecessarily burdening the insurance industry – and in the recognition it reflects that federal actions affecting the insurance industry should involve the industry. For example, legislation proposed by U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff earlier this year to create a federal “catastrophe reinsurance program” raises several concerns that warrant scrutiny and discussion – not the least of which is that it would set coverage thresholds and dictate rating factors based on input from a board in which the insurance industry is only nominally represented.

“Triple-I commends the decision by FIO and NAIC to collaborate on a joint comprehensive property/casualty insurance data call to gather insights into the dramatic changes we’re seeing in the insurance marketplace,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan. “Insurance companies are committed to finding solutions for how we can predict and prevent property damage from natural disasters, as well as keeping costs of coverage at competitive levels. Data calls are time-consuming and expensive. A unified collection of data will help make this a more efficient process.”

Learn More:

Federal “Reinsurance” Proposal Raises Red Flags

FEMA Reauthorization Session Highlights Importance of Risk Transfer and Reduction

NAIC Seeks Granular Data From Insurers to Help Fill Local Protection Gaps

Data Call Would Hinder Climate-Risk Efforts More Than It Would Help

It’s Not an “Insurance Crisis” – It’s a Risk Crisis

Complex Risks in a Complicated World: Are Federal Backstops the Answer?

Triple-I Responds to SEC’s Proposed Climate-Risk Disclosure Requirements

Triple-I CEO: Insurance Leading on Climate Risk

Insurers Engage
as Climate Perils
Drive Up Costs

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

2023 was another year with high-risk climate and weather-related challenges, with 2024 positioned to pose its own challenges.

Indeed, 2023 was the warmest year for the globe since 1850 — when these records were first made. The temperature in 2023 was over two degrees Celsius above the 20th Century average, with the 10 warmest years in recorded history occurring from 2014-2023. Record-setting temperatures hit areas across Canada, the southern United States, Central America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, as well as parts of the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and South Pacific Ocean.

These shifts in global weather – combined with changing population and other dynamics – have played a powerful role in the risk of disasters.

Costs are high

In the United States, Allianz estimates, extreme weather events now cost the country $150 billion a year, making these perils “key threats” for organizations. However, larger companies are leading a response to these risks by transforming their business models to low carbon, while also creating new and improved plans to respond to climate events. Allianz notes that supply-chain resilience is a crucial area of focus for the coming year.

“Although this year’s Allianz Risk Barometer results on climate change show that reputational, reporting, and legal risks are regarded as lesser threats by businesses,” said Denise De Bilio, ESG Director, Risk Consulting, Allianz Commercial, “many of these challenges are interlinked.”

According to Allianz, exposure remains highest for utility, energy, and industrial sectors. Last year’s wildfires in Canada limited oil and gas output to 3.7 percent of national production. Water scarcity is now also considered to be a threat.

Promising developments

As Triple-I reported in late 2023, despite all the concern regarding climate risk, certain weather-related disasters actually declined in the past year. This includes U.S. wildfire, which saw its lowest frequency and severity in the past two decades, despite catastrophic losses in Washington State, Hawaii, Louisiana, and elsewhere, according to a Triple-I Issues Brief. California – a state often considered synonymous with wildfire – last year experienced its third mild fire season in a row.

Homeowners insurance rates in California, as elsewhere in the United States, have been rising.  Some of this trend is due to wildfires and construction in the wildland-urban interface, which put increased amounts of expensive property at risk. According to Cal Fire, five of the largest wildfires in the state’s history have occurred since 2017. 

Much of California’s problem, however, is related to a 1988 measure – Proposition 103 – that severely constrains insurers’ ability to profitably insure property in the state. Late in 2023, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara announced a package of executive actions aimed at addressing some of the challenges included in Proposition 103.

Flood remains a severe and increasing peril in the United States. While the federal government remains the main source of insurance coverage through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the private insurance market is increasingly stepping up to assume more of the risk. As Triple-I has reported, between 2016 and 2022, the total flood market grew 24 percent – from $3.29 billion in direct premiums written to $4.09 billion – with 77 private companies writing 32.1 percent of the business.  As the charts below make clear, private insurers are accounting for a bigger piece of a growing pie.

This is an important development, as the growing private-sector involvement in flood can reasonably be expected to result, over time, in greater availability and affordability of flood insurance as the peril increases and NFIP – through increased reliance on risk-based pricing – spreads the cost of coverage more fairly among property owners. Historically, the system often subsidized coverage for higher-risk homes, to the detriment of lower-risk property owners. With NFIP premium rates rising to more accurately reflect the risk assumed, private insurers – armed with increasingly sophisticated data and analytical tools – are better equipped than ever to identify opportunities to write more business.

Much yet to be done

Growing awareness and action to address climate-related risk is promising, but the crisis is far from over. In several U.S. states, insurance affordability and even availability are being affected, and much of the conversation around this topic confuses cause with effect. Rising insurance rates and constrained underwriting capacity is a result of the risk environment – not a cause of it.

Investment in mitigation and resilience is necessary, and this will require collective responsibility from the individual and community levels up through all levels of government. It will require public-private partnerships and appropriate alignment of investment incentives for all co-beneficiaries.

Learn More:

Triple-I Issues Brief: Flood

Triple-I Issues Brief: Wildfire

FEMA Reauthorization Session Highlights Importance of Risk Transfer and Reduction

Miami-Dade, Fla., Sees Flood Insurance Rate Cuts, Thanks to Resilience Investment

Milwaukee District Eyes Expanding Nature-Based Flood-Mitigation Plan

Attacking the Risk Crisis: Roadmap to Investment in Flood Resilience

It’s Not an “Insurance Crisis” — It’s a Risk Crisis

FEMA Highlights Role
of Modern Roofs
in Preventing
Hurricane Damage

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

Homes with more modern roofs were able to avoid significant damage from Hurricane Ian, compared with those with older roofs, according to a recent study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Of the 200 homes surveyed, 90 percent with roofs installed before 2015 had roof damage, as opposed to 28 percent for those installed after 2015, when Florida imposed new ordinances regarding how roofs are attached to houses and how waterproof they need to be. Indeed, when Hurricane Ian made landfall at Cayo Costa, a barrier island in Lee County, Fla., on Sept. 28, 2022, it damaged 52,514 homes and other structures in the area, causing an estimated $55 billion in insured losses in 2024 dollars.

Some of this damage, according to the data, could have been mitigated by updated roofs.

History tells the same story

After the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Florida took the initiative to develop innovative plans to prevent hurricane damage. These changes further came into effect in 2002, with a new focus on roofing. However, there were inconsistencies in the quality of the roofing.

“The 1970s-era homes performed better than some of the post-2002 new building code homes because of the sealed roof deck,” Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, told The Miami Herald. “It was a nominal cost (to reinforce the roof) and a simple thing to do, but it made a huge difference.”

Now, with a renewed focus on metal sheet roofs—which bear the brunt of storms more resiliently than asphalt shingle roofs—FEMA’s data could drastically change the way in which homes are built, and how insurers are responding to fraudulent claims.

Insurance scams set progress back

Insurers are forced to raise the price of coverage in hurricane-prone areas in Florida because of a rash of schemes to deliberately damage roofs to qualify them for insurance claims, a persisting trend.

“Fraud drives insurance rates up and harms all Florida policyholders,” Citizens Property Insurance CEO Tim Cerio said. Still, implementing the changes suggested by the FEMA study may help alleviate some of the concerns posed by insurers—and help homeowners.

“When you’re looking at a home and evaluating its ability to survive a hurricane, the health of the roof is the first question to ask,” said Chapman-Henderson. “It not only increases your performance in the hurricane itself, but in the current environment it can help save you money on your insurance.”

Learn More:

Lawsuits Threaten to Swell Hurricane Ian’s Pricetag

Triple-I Issues Brief: Hurricanes

Chubb Highlights Perils Keeping High-Net-Worth People Awake at Night

According to a recent Chubb survey of 800 high-net-worth individuals in the United States and Canada, 92 percent are concerned about the size of a verdict against them if they were a defendant in a liability case – yet only 36 percent have excess liability insurance.

When it comes to liability, Chubb says respondents are most worried about auto accidents, allegations of assault or harassment, and someone working in their home getting hurt. Damage awards are rising dramatically for a number of reasons, according to Laila Brabander, head of North American personal lines claims for Chubb.

“Economic damages historically were based on factors such as the extent of an injury and resultant medical expenses or past and future loss of income,” she said. “But we are seeing a rise in non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering and post-traumatic stress disorder, that overshadow actual economic losses.”

Brabander described a case in which a client at a yoga studio fell onto the person next to her and was sued by the injured party for pain and suffering.

“The same plaintiffs’ tactics to encourage large verdicts in commercial trucking, auto liability, product liability and medical malpractice suits are now being utilized to push for larger jury awards against our high-net-worth clients,” Brabander said.

Another factor driving up the cost of settlements is the third-party litigation funding, in which firms  provide funding to plaintiffs and their lawyers in exchange for a percentage of the settlement. These private-equity firms began in the commercial space and are now funding lawsuits against individuals and their insurers.

High-net-worth people also are deeply concerned about the threats posed to their homes by extreme weather and climate-related events. Much of this concern may be due to increased development in coastal areas vulnerable to tropical storms and flooding and in the wildland-urban interface – areas in which development places property into proximity with fire-prone wilderness (see links below).

Chubb’s findings are based on a survey of 800 wealthy individuals in the United States (650 respondents) and Canada (150 respondents). Respondents had investable assets of at least $500,000, with the majority reporting assets of $1.5 million to $50 million and 12 percent reporting assets of more than $50 million.

Learn More:

Triple-I Issues Brief – State of the Risk: Wildfire

Triple-I Issues Brief – State of the Risk: Hurricanes

What Is Third-Party Litigation Funding and How Does It Affect Insurance Pricing and Affordability?

Despite High-Profile Events, U.S. Wildfire Severity, Frequency
Have Been Declining

With record-breaking wildfires making headlines in recent years, it may be surprising to learn that U.S. wildfire frequency and severity for in 2023 are on track to be the lowest in the past two decades. In fact, the trend has been generally downward since 2000, according to a recently published Triple-I Issues Brief.

Despite catastrophic losses in Washington State, Hawaii, Louisiana, and elsewhere, California – a state often considered synonymous with wildfire – is in the midst of its second mild fire season in a row. This may be due to drought-breaking rains and snows, but Texas is experiencing fewer wildfires than in 2022, despite worsening drought conditions. About 37 percent of the continental U.S. remains under some form of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

At the same time, Swiss Re reports that wildfire’s share of insured natural catastrophe losses has doubled over the past 30 years. How can those trends be reconciled? At least part of the answer resides in population trends – specifically, growing numbers of people choosing to live in the wildland-urban interface (WUI), the zone between unoccupied and developed land, where structures and human activity intermingle with vegetative fuels.

 Mitigation is necessary – but not sufficient

The improvements in frequency and severity are likely due to investments in mitigation. State and local authorities have invested heavily to mitigate the human causes of wildfire. In addition, the federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act of 2021 included billions to support wildfire-risk reduction, homeowner investment in mitigation, and improved responsiveness to fires. More recently, the Biden Administration announced $185 million for wildfire mitigation and resilience as part of the Investing in America Agenda, which should help continue the declines in frequency and severity.

But with more people living in the WUI – nearly 99 million, or one third of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Fire Administration – more than 46 million homes with an estimated value of $1.3 trillion are at risk.

According to the 2022 Annual Report of Wildfires produced by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), 68,988 wildfires were reported and 7.5 million acres burned in 2022.  Of these fires, 89 percent were caused by human activity and burned 55 acres per fire. By contrast, the 11 percent of fires caused by lightning resulted in an average of 563 acres burned, 10 times more than human-caused fires.

This difference may shed light on why the number of fires has been decreasing more dramatically than acres burned. Further, population shifts into the WUI are increasing the proximity of property to places prone to fire, helping to explain the rise in wildfire’s increased percentage of insured losses.