Bigger Than the Big One
When it starts at 2:12 p.m. on an October Thursday, residents of California old enough to remember previous big quakes assure themselves that they’ve been through this before.
But in another 10 seconds or so, they see that they are profoundly wrong.
The shaking, stronger than anything ever measured in the United States, goes on and on, not for seconds, but for minutes. Panic builds to horror as people are thrown to the ground, stoned by debris from crumbling office buildings or crushed in their cars under collapsed freeway overpasses.
This is a quake even bigger than “The Big One,” which modelers tend to peg as something in the 7.6 to 8.0 range on the Richter scale. This is an 8.5 magnitude quake on the San Andreas Fault with an epicenter at Cape Mendocino in Humboldt County, about 250 miles north of San Francisco.
According to modeling firm EQECAT, a subsidiary of CoreLogic, the rupture in Humboldt County triggers a cascade of four contiguous San Andreas Fault segment ruptures that end in Southern California at Indio in the Salton Sea.
It was fire that destroyed much of San Francisco in the legendary 1906 earthquake, but it is salt water this time that plays a substantial role in the undoing of that great city and its bigger cousin, Los Angeles.
In Southern California, the quake provokes a submarine landslide, 100 miles or so in length and miles wide, that runs from the coastal waters of Santa Barbara down to San Luis Rey in San Diego County.
That immense shifting of underwater soil in turn pushes water toward land in a tsunami that runs a mile or so inland in places, damaging large oil refineries in El Segundo and Torrance, and creating an environmental disaster.
Hundreds of billions of dollars of Southern California’s high-priced residential and commercial real estate is erased in 10 minutes. Thousands die within that same time span.
The Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, the two biggest U.S. container ports, are shut down, severely damaged by the shaking and the tsunami.
To the north, the “Achilles heel” of San Francisco, its bay-side seawall, ruptures in multiple places, spilling bay water into the city.
The four-mile seawall, which runs from Hyde Street and Fisherman’s Wharf in the north to Pier 54 and Channel Street in the south, was cobbled together in 21 sections from 1878 to 1924. The land mass filled in behind the seawall is composed of sand, clay and gravel in places and liquefies under a quake of this magnitude, undermining the city’s Embarcadero roadway and severing crucial utility and public transportation connections.
San Francisco is far better prepared for seismic activity than any U.S. city. But when the seawall fails, the surging bay water undermines downtown office buildings already weakened by the shaking, and several of them collapse.
The destruction of the seawall shuts down the Transbay Tube, the underwater Bay Area Rapid Transit rail connection between San Francisco and Oakland, stranding hundreds of thousands of commuters in the broken cities.
Damage to the Bay Bridge shuts down first-responder access from the east. Damage to the Golden Gate Bridge cuts off aid from the north.
With emergency responders in the rest of the state frantically working to save their own populations, the city is sealed off from help, stricken and flood ravaged. Its residents tend to the injured and dying as best they can as spiraling smoke obscures the sun and sirens wail unceasingly.
According to EQECAT, the insured losses from a cascading San Andreas rupture measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale would amount to $140 billion.
Before the Tohoku quake of March 2011, scientists thought that an 8.5 on the San Andreas was inconceivable, according to Mahmoud Khater, chief science and technology officer with EQECAT. But before Tohoku, no one thought that the fault in Japan could produce a 9.0. The most it was thought capable of was an 8.4.
Tragically, the world now knows better, after more than 16,000 Japanese deaths and more than $30 billion in insured losses.
“It is really Tohoku that has altered the scientific and actuarial thinking,” Khater said.
The importance of the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to trade with technology suppliers in Asia is just one piece of the extended business interruption and contingent business interruption aftermath of an 8.5 on the San Andreas that would lead to global economic losses of $1 trillion.
“We clearly agree that it would be a multi-year event,” said Jamie Miller, head of North American property for Swiss Re.
EQECAT estimates that there is $2.2 trillion in residential and commercial property exposure in California. The company said fatalities from the event we envision would run into the tens of thousands.
As gruesome as tens of thousands of deaths would be, and as daunting to the insurance industry as $140 billion in insured losses may appear, Miller and his colleagues at Swiss Re fear that even greater economic calamity awaits, should this event occur.
Alex Kaplan, vice president, global partnerships, public sector business with Swiss Re, points to the low take-up rate of personal lines earthquake insurance in California, the weak financial condition of the federal and local governments, and how that combination could balloon into a national economic calamity.
“You talk about firefighting and other ongoing expenses that aren’t passed on through insurance, coupled with less homeowners to pay for it. That to me is the black swan.” — Jamie Miller, head of North American property, Swiss Re
Consider, under Kaplan’s direction, that only 12 percent of homeowners in California carry earthquake insurance.
Modelers say 1 million homes would be severely damaged in the 8.5 quake.
“That’s 880,000 homes that are uninsured and 660,000 of those homes have mortgages,” Kaplan said.
Not only will there be hundreds of billions of dollars in damage but as a result of the earthquake, the rate of mortgage defaults and credit losses in California will spike, he said.
“Keep in mind that California has one-sixth of all underwater mortgages,” he added.
In addition, the federal government will be unable to sufficiently bail out local governments in California, which will suffer greatly reduced property tax collections just as public services such as police and fire protection are stretched to the limit.
“FEMA’s current funding scheme is inadequate to handle something like this,” Kaplan said.
From 2005 through 2011, the agency’s average disaster appropriation was $1.75 billion per year, Kaplan said. But spending on supplemental appropriations amounted to an average of $4.6 billion per year.
“There is no probabilistic modeling that goes into how the federal government allocates funds,” Kaplan said.
“You talk about firefighting and other ongoing expenses that aren’t passed on through insurance, coupled with less homeowners to pay for it,” Miller said.
“That to me is the black swan.”
Mitigation and Recovery
For years — since the Loma Prieta quake that struck the Bay Area in 1989, and the Northridge quake that hit Los Angeles in 1994 — governments in California have taken aggressive measures to limit the damage that would occur in a major quake and to make California cities more resilient.
In April, with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, San Francisco appointed the world’s first Chief Resiliency Officer, Patrick Otellini. The Rockefeller program will eventually fund 100 such positions worldwide.
“We have a mentality that we need to get over and that is we are the biggest country in the world with the deepest capital markets and The Big One wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I don’t think that’s true.” — Alex Kaplan, vice president, Swiss Re
In the new position, Otellini is putting to work his 10 years of experience in the private sector helping businesses negotiate the City of San Francisco’s permitting and code requirements process and his more recent job, which he still holds, as the director of the city’s Earthquake Implementation Program.
The host of initiatives he is working on include measuring the vulnerability of the city’s seawall and creating a plan to improve it, coordinating the various utilities whose services the city depends on to increase their post-disaster resiliency, and implementation of a program designed to speed up occupancy of hotels and other businesses post-quake provided they have been inspected by city-approved engineers.
Under Otellini’s direction, the city’s Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance last year that required owners to retrofit and make more earthquake-proof rental properties with wood frame construction, built before 1978, and having five or more residential units with two or more stories over a “soft story” — a story with large open spaces like a garage or retail space with large windows.
The city’s experience in 1989 told it that housing stock would be totally destroyed should The Big One hit.
Otellini said there are 60,000 residents living in rent-controlled housing who would lose that protection in a big quake had the city not taken action.
“Not to mention the impact on our city services and the fact that these buildings tend to be very defining of the architecture of San Francisco,” he said.
Although it’s not regulating a big piece of the city’s overall commercial and residential building stock, the measure is an example of how governments can begin to pick off lower hanging fruit and make their cities incrementally more resilient.
The Los Angeles City Council took note of the San Francisco measure and passed its own ordinance. The two city governments are now working together on a number of resiliency initiatives and to make state politicians more aware of what else needs to be done.
“I am very excited about that dialogue,” Otellini said.
The efforts of Otellini and others will lessen the cost of The Big One and bring businesses and communities back quicker, said Swiss Re’s Kaplan.
“I am very impressed with how public entities from the city level, to the state level, to the federal level are thinking about the physical resilience of a particular region,” Kaplan said.
“How do you retrofit the buildings, how do you communicate the risk, and they have done a tremendous job of enhancing that over the years,” he said.
“What I am still concerned about is the financial resilience, how are you going to fund these losses?” he asked.
Kaplan said he now sees U.S. cities taking a much more engaged approach to which insurance or insurance-linked securities solutions could help to remove the volatility from public sector balance sheets in the case of a disaster.
“The Mexican government is highly sophisticated in that regard and we see it is starting to happen in the U.S.,” Kaplan said.
“We have a mentality that we need to get over and that is we are the biggest country in the world with the deepest capital markets and The Big One wouldn’t be that big of a deal,” Kaplan said.
“I don’t think that’s true.”
Additional 2014 black swan stories:
When a nuclear reactor melts down due to a powerful tornado, deadly contamination rains down on a metropolitan area.
A double dose of ice storms batter the Eastern seaboard, plunging 50 million people and three million businesses into a polar vortex of darkness and desperation.
7 Emerging Technology Risks
The Risk List is presented by:
Mind the Gap in Global Logistics
Manufacturers and shippers are going global.
As inventories grow, shippers need sophisticated systems to manage it all, and many companies choose to outsource significant chunks of their supply chain management to contracted providers. A recent survey by market research firm Transport Intelligence reveals that outsourcing outnumbers nearshoring in the logistics industry by 2:1. In addition, only 16.7 percent of respondents stated they are outsourcing fewer logistics processes today than they were three years ago.
Those providers in turn take more responsibilities through each step of the bailment process, from processing, packaging and labeling to transportation and storage. Spending in the U.S. logistics and transportation industry totaled $1.45 trillion in 2014 and represented 8.3 percent of annual gross domestic product, according to the International Trade Administration.
“Traditionally these outside parties provided one phase of the supply chain process, perhaps transportation, or just warehousing. Today many of these companies are extending their services and product offerings to many phases of supply chain management,” said Mike Perrotti, Senior Vice President, Inland Marine, XL Catlin.
Such companies are known as third-party logistics (3PL) providers, or even fourth-party logistics (4PL) providers. They could provide transportation, storage, pick-n-pack, processing or consolidation/deconsolidation.
As the provider’s logistics responsibilities widen, their insurance needs grow.
“In the past, the underwriters would piecemeal together different coverages for these logistics providers. For instance, they might take a motor truck cargo policy, and attach a warehouse form, a bailee’s form, other inland marine products, and an ocean cargo form. You would have most of the exposures covered, but when you start taking different products and bolting them together, you end up with gaps,” said Alexander McGinley, Vice President, US Marine, XL Catlin.
A comprehensive logistics form can close those gaps, and demand for such a product has been on the rise over the past decade as logistics providers search for a better way to manage their range of exposures.
“Traditionally these outside parties provided one phase of the supply chain process, perhaps transportation, or just warehousing. Today many of these companies are extending their services and product offerings to many phases of supply chain management.”
–Mike Perrotti, Senior Vice President, Inland Marine, XL Catlin
A Complementary Package
XL Catlin’s Logistics Services Coverage Solutions takes a holistic approach to the legal liability that 3PL providers face while a manufacturer’s stock is in their care, custody and control.
“A 3PL’s legal liability for loss or damage from a covered cause of loss to the covered property during storage, packaging, consolidation, shipping and related services would be insured under this comprehensive policy,” McGinley said. “It provides piece of mind to both the owner of the goods and the logistics provider that they are protected if something goes wrong.”
In addition to coverage for physical damage, the logistics solution also provides protection from cyber risks, employee theft and contract penalties, and from emerging exposures created by the FDA Food Modernization Act.
This coverage form, however, only protects 3PL companies’ operations within the U.S., its territories and possessions, and Canada. Many large shippers also have an international arm that needs the same protection.
XL Catlin’s Ocean Cargo Coverage Solutions product rounds out the logistics solution with international coverage.
While Ocean Cargo coverage typically serves the owner of a shipment or their customers, it can also be provided to the internationally exposed logistics provider to cover the cargo of others while in their care, custody, and control.
“This covers a client’s shipment that they’re buying from or selling to another party while it’s in transit, by any type of conveyance, anywhere in the world,” said Andrew D’Alessio, National Ocean Cargo Product Leader, XL Catlin. “When provided to the logistics company, they in turn insure the shipment on behalf of the owner of the cargo.”
The international component provided by ocean cargo coverage can also eliminate clients’ fears over non-compliance if admitted insurance coverage is purchased. Through its global network, XL Catlin is uniquely positioned as a multi-national insurer to offer locally admitted coverages in over 200 countries.
“In the past, the underwriters would piecemeal together different coverages for these logistics providers. For instance, they might take a motor truck cargo policy, and attach a warehouse form, a bailee’s form, other inland marine products, and an ocean cargo form. You would have most of the exposures covered, but when you start taking different products and bolting them together, you end up with gaps.”
–Alexander McGinley, Vice President, US Marine, XL Catlin
A Developing Need
The approaching holiday season demonstrates the need for an insurance product that manages both domestic and international logistics exposures.
In the final months of the year, lots of goods will be shipped to the U.S. from major manufacturing nations in Asia. Transportation providers responsible for importing these goods may require two policies: ocean cargo coverage to address risks to shipments outside North America, and a logistics solution to cover risks once goods arrive in the United States or Canada.
“These transportation providers are expanding globally while also shipping throughout the U.S. That’s how the need for both domestic and international logistics coverage evolved. Until now there have been few solutions to holistically manage their exposures,” D’Alessio said.
In another example, D’Alessio described one major paper provider that expanded its business from manufacturing to include logistics management. In this case, the paper company needed coverage as a primary owner of a product and as the bailee managing the goods their clients own in transit.
“That manufacturer has a significant market share of the world’s paper, producing everything from copy paper to Bible paper, wrapping paper, magazine paper, anything you can think of. Because they were so dominant, their customers started asking them to arrange freight for their products as well,” he said.
“These transportation providers are expanding globally while also shipping throughout the U.S. That’s how the need for both domestic and international logistics coverage evolved. Until now there have been few solutions to holistically manage their exposures.”
–Andrew D’Alessio, National Ocean Cargo Product Leader, XL Catlin
The global, multi-national paper company essentially launched a second business, serving as a transportation and logistics provider for their own customers. As the paper shipments changed ownership through the bailment process, the company required two totally different types of insurance coverage: an ocean cargo policy to cover their interests as the owner and producer of the product, and logistics coverage to address their exposures as a transportation provider while they move the products of others.
“As a bailee, they no longer own the products, but they have the care, custody, and control for another party. They need to make sure that they have the appropriate insurance coverage to address those specific risks,” McGinley said.
“From a coverage standpoint, this is slowly but surely becoming the new standard. A logistics form on the inland marine side, combined with an international component, is becoming something that a sophisticated client as well as a sophisticated broker should really be asking for,” McGinley said.
The old status quo method of bolting on coverage forms or additional coverages as needed won’t suffice as global shipping needs become more complex.
With one underwriting solution, the marine team at XL Catlin can insure 3PL clients’ risks from both a domestic and international standpoint.
“The two products, Ocean Cargo Coverage Solutions and Logistics Service Coverage Solutions, can be provided to the same customer to really round out all of their bailment, shipping, transportation, and storage needs domestically and around the globe,” D’Alessio said.
The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only. Insurance coverage in any particular case will depend upon the type of policy in effect, the terms, conditions and exclusions in any such policy, and the facts of each unique situation. No representation is made that any specific insurance coverage would apply in the circumstances outlined herein. Please refer to the individual policy forms for specific coverage details. XL Catlin, the XL Catlin logo and Make Your World Go are trademarks of XL Group Ltd companies. XL Catlin is the global brand used by XL Group Ltd’s (re)insurance subsidiaries. In the US, the insurance companies of XL Group Ltd are: Catlin Indemnity Company, Catlin Insurance Company, Inc., Catlin Specialty Insurance Company, Greenwich Insurance Company, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, XL Insurance America, Inc., and XL Specialty Insurance Company. Not all of the insurers do business in all jurisdictions nor is coverage available in all jurisdictions. Information accurate as of December 2016.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with XL Catlin. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.