The Fury of Anais
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.
Buddy Welch, an analyst with the National Hurricane Center at Florida International University in Miami, is finishing his second cup of coffee on the morning of August 22, 2017 as he monitors a tropical wave formation off of the western coast of Africa.
Buddy looks over to his colleague Jonathan Schell.
“Hey Jon, will you come look at this a second?”
“Sure, what is it?” Schell says before walking over to Buddy’s desk and looking over his shoulder.
“Look at that,” Welch says, pointing to the satellite images on his monitor.
“That’s a very strong wave,” Schell says, watching the evidence of the strong tropical wave moving off of the coast of Africa.
“Could be the strongest thing we’ve seen all summer,” echoes Buddy.
“By far,” the two scientists say at the same time.
“We’ve got very warm water in the Atlantic right now,” Jonathan adds.
He and Buddy continue to monitor the tropical wave for signs of strengthening and possible convection. Forecast models indicate that conditions are ripe for the wave to organize quickly into a tropical storm and thereafter, a hurricane.
The tropical wave does become a tropical storm, dubbed “Anais,” and bolstered by unusually warm ocean water, it intensifies as it moves across the tropical Atlantic toward the Caribbean and the United States.
On August 26, Anais is upgraded to a hurricane in the tropical Atlantic, east of the Eastern Caribbean.
As the hurricane moves through the Caribbean, past Hispaniola, the National Hurricane Center notifies residents and emergency managers up and down the Eastern Seaboard that Anais poses a very real and severe threat.
Several days later, on the 1st, Anais buffets the Bahamas with high winds. It spares the Bahamas a direct hit and instead veers north- northwest and, now classified as a Cat 4, with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, takes dead aim at the coast of North Carolina.
Ray Bonner, risk manager for the City of Norfolk, Va. is one of those who takes heed.
Bonner immediately convenes Norfolk’s crisis management team, which is more sophisticated than many because it has a “business resilience” subcommittee that is dedicated to coordinating with municipal officials in the event of a natural catastrophe. The committee’s mandate is to help businesses open as soon as possible in the aftermath of a major storm.
“This hurricane could hit every coastal city from Wilmington, N.C. to Boston,” Bonner tells his assembled crisis management team.
“We can’t be sure that we’ll get much help from neighboring emergency responders if that’s the case,” he tells the committee.
On Labor Day, September 4, Anais strikes Wilmington, N.C. as a Cat 4. The storm cripples the Wilmington power grid and causes 13 deaths.
All Fall Down
Despite the damage done by Anais in Wilmington, Bonner and other members of Norfolk’s crisis management team are frustrated by what they see as a lack of sense of urgency in some quarters to evacuate as necessary and take proper precautions. Perhaps distractions due to end-of–summer Labor Day plans are partially to blame, they reason.
Well before the hurricane made landfall, Bonner and risk managers from other East Coast cities got on a conference call to discuss the storm’s potential impact and how each city might coordinate with the other to assist in recovery.
“This could end up being every bit as bad as Hurricane Sandy,” said Elizabeth Acres, the risk manager for Boston, Mass.
“Or worse,” said Jay Baker, the risk manager for New York City.
“You ever heard of the Norfolk/Long Island Hurricane of 1821?” Baker says.
“No,” says Acres and others simultaneously.
“I’ll send you the link,” he says. “Path of Anais looks very similar to the path of that 1821 hurricane.”
On September 5, Anais, still a Cat 4, hits Norfolk. Without losing strength, the hurricane continues north, striking Cape May, N.J., New York City and Connecticut in turn.
The storm is every bit as damaging as Hurricane Sandy was, and causes historical levels of wind and flood damage throughout the Washington, D.C. to Boston megalopolis.
Back in Norfolk, Bonner, along with the city’s emergency response coordinator Jim Christopher, is touring flooded sections of the city on September 7 in a zodiac that’s equipped as an emergency response boat.
They’re touring one of the city’s business districts, which is still inundated with three feet of water. The zodiac reaches the end of a block and Christopher eases off on the throttle.
The two men stare at the devastation in the deserted business district in silence. They can see dresses and hats floating, half-submerged in the gray flood waters, through one of the few intact store windows.
“I don’t see when these businesses can re-open,” Bonner says.
“I don’t see when we even get into these shops to have a look at them,” Christopher says.
On September 12, Bonner again gets on a conference call with his fellow risk managers from cities in the Northeast. Accompanying them on the call is Ray Harbridge, a Northeast Regional Director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Boston’s Elizabeth Acres leads the dialogue with Harbridge.
“Ray, can you update us on the timeline for any funding assistance we might get from Washington?” Acres says for openers.
“We have no answers in that area Liz,” Harbridge says.
“We’re dealing with an unprecedented level of damage to the six largest cities in the East,” Harbridge said.
“First impressions are that we have millions of people affected,” he said.
“And that’s not even getting into the business impact,” Bonner said.
“That’s correct,” Harbridge said.
“We’ve got to concentrate on housing and medical care for those most vulnerable and those displaced,” he said.
“I know you’ve got plenty of worries on your end, but you’re going to have to rely on your own resources for the foreseeable future. I really don’t know when we see a way clear of all this,” he said.
“Let’s face facts folks,” New York’s Jay Baker said after Harbridge, extremely pressed for time, hung up.
“We still haven’t received federal reimbursement for Hurricane Sandy damage and expenses in some cases, and we’re five years out from that.”
“We’re going to be at this a long time,” Boston’s Acre said.
“You can take that five years from Sandy and double it,” Baker said.
Ever since he heard the first indication from the National Hurricane Center that Anais should be watched, back in late August, Ray Bonner’s mind had been turning on something.
When Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey and flooded Lower Manhattan in 2012, it caused a permanent shift in Bonner’s thinking.
Before Sandy, the idea that a major hurricane would come near enough to cause substantial damage in New York was thought to be a “Black Swan” event, something with an extremely low possibility, albeit having potentially devastating consequences.
After Sandy, Bonner began to think about ways to mitigate the costs of a major hurricane strike. He’d begun discussions with the City’s budget director and its finance committee on the possible purchase of layers of reinsurance that could help the city defray not only the costs associated with hurricane clean-up and repair, but the lost property tax and business income tax revenue should the region’s homes and businesses take a big hit.
Presentations Bonner made on the Norfolk/Long Island Hurricane of 1821 to city finance officials left them unmoved, though. It wasn’t that city leaders were callous to Bonner’s concerns. But pressing matters like negotiations with unionized police and firefighters took up most of their attention.
Norfolk’s finances were basically sound. Bonner’s attempts to sway city leaders to a different way beyond floating bonds and raising taxes on the back end in the event of a catastrophe just couldn’t gain any traction. City officials felt that they had things under control and didn’t want to start piling on new expenses like insurance premiums.
Six months after Anais struck, analysts released data that showed the storm caused $40 billion in wind damage and $70 billion in storm surge damage to cities and towns from Wilmington, N.C. to Boston.
What Bonner considered a real threat after Sandy struck turned out to be true after Anais. Norfolk city finances, which had previously been solid, began to deteriorate.
Twenty percent of the Norfolk/Virginia Beach region’s housing stock was rendered uninhabitable by Anais. Reductions in property tax revenue, coupled with business tax revenue reductions, were creating budget deficits in Norfolk and in every other city that was hit by Anais.
That public sector pain was being repeated in the private sector. Loss of mortgage interest and principle payments, a lynchpin of the banking system, led to the failures of dozens of regional banks and severe limitations on the revenue of the larger banks.
In 2021, four years after Anais hit, the Rand Corporation released a study, titled “The Anais Effect” which estimated that the economic damage from Anais restricted growth in the Northeast by seven percent from 2017 to 2021.
Rand Corp. researchers estimated that by 2027, 10 years after the storm, an “Anais Recession” — the first ever regional economic recession connected to a natural catastrophe — would limit growth on an annual basis in the Northeast by five percent.
Risk & Insurance® partnered with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions to produce this scenario. Below are Swiss Re Corporate Solutions’ recommendations on urban and corporate resilience, and a reminder about the company’s global expertise in the areas of Nat Cat modeling and disaster preparedness. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.
The 1821 hurricane struck the mid-Atlantic and Northeast United States at a time in history when human population and concentration of value were dramatically lower than present day. In fact, only 136,000 people lived in Washington and New York at the time. If a major catastrophic event like the 1821 Norfolk Long Island Hurricane was to happen today, it would cause 50% more damage than Sandy and potentially cause more than $100 billion in property losses stemming from wind damage and flooding from storm surge.
That’s just one part of the story, however. Taking into consideration lost tax revenue due to destroyed homes and business, lower real estate values and other economic considerations, the broader economic impact would grow to over $150 billion. That’s well above the aggregate losses of all storms which recently impacted the Eastern United States, including Hurricane Sandy.
With an eye toward a future event that could dwarf Sandy in terms of insured and economic losses, Swiss Re has published a new report that analyzes the 1821 hurricane and how a repeat event would impact the region today. Download the report at: http://media.swissre.com/documents/the_big_one_us_hurricane_web2.pdf
To prepare for such a future event, large scale urban resilience must be at the forefront of the risk management community. Of course, protecting lives should be the highest priority for city authorities seeking to improve their disaster preparedness. Beyond that, municipalities and businesses – large and small – must work together to ensure critical infrastructure and supply chain redundancy. This can be accomplished, in part, by more fully understanding the geographic hazards via advanced modeling techniques using Swiss Re’s CatNet® tool.
CatNet® – Advanced Modeling
Combining satellite imagery with Google MapsTM and Swiss Re’s proprietary historical data, CatNet® allows risk management professionals to analyze worldwide natural hazard exposures. CatNet® features:
- Natural hazard atlas
- Country-specific insurance data
- Disaster statistics
This allows risk managers to prepare local, regional and cross-regional risk profiles to assist management in disaster preparedness. The result is a more informed viewpoint about a company’s or city’s insurance considerations and potential enterprise risk management gaps. An organization’s disaster preparedness can be further enhanced by partnering with local authorities, businesses and municipal leaders to ensure community-wide resilience.
In September 2008, the state of Indiana was ordered to reimburse the consortium that operates the Indiana Toll Road $447,000 for tolls waived for travelers evacuated during a severe flood.
The trigger was a compensation clause in the 2006 leasing agreement between the state and the private group that provided the state with an upfront payment of $3.8 billion in exchange for the consortium’s right to operate the 157-mile toll road for 75 years.
Such clauses guarantee that governmental entities compensate private operators when there’s an event affecting the leased asset’s revenue.
That 2008 cost to the state government of Indiana is just one of the risks that may crop up as public-private partnerships — or P3s — are used more by cash-strapped governments as a means to shore up or operate aging U.S. infrastructure.
More recently, the consortium that paid Indiana for the right to run the highway encountered liquidity problems, leading to even more uncertainty over the highway’s future management.
The consortium’s timing was bad. It paid billions to take over the toll road right before the onset of the Great Recession.
P3s are fairly common in Europe and Canada, especially as a way to design, construct, and fund social infrastructure such as courthouses and hospitals.
But here in the United States, P3s are still in their infancy, and some surety carriers look at them skeptically.
“I have not seen a single project recently where the surety industry has not been able to provide a 100 percent performance and 100 percent payment bond.”
— Drew Brach, a Marsh managing director and U.S. surety practice leader
The arrangements permit governments to contract with private financiers and lending institutions to build, finance, operate and maintain major infrastructure development, with private entities covering the upfront costs in exchange for the ability to run the facilities and to collect tolls or other payments for long periods of time.
The “operating and maintaining” phase of an infrastructure project often ranges from 25 to 40 years.
Carriers are particularly concerned that many states using P3s have yet to enact enabling legislation calling for the payment and performance guarantees that surety underwriters typically provide on infrastructure development.
Although a total of 34 states have laws enabling P3s, only 26 of those states require payment and performance bonds on P3 projects, said Mary Alice McNamara, second vice president and counsel with surety provider Travelers Bond & Financial Products.
Examples of some recent P3 projects that have surety bond requirements include California’s Presidio Parkway program, Ohio’s River Bridges East End Crossing program and the Indiana and Illinois Illiana toll-road project, McNamara said.
When surety bonds aren’t required to guarantee project completion and payment to subcontractors, suppliers, and laborers for work performed on P3 infrastructure projects, lenders may call for letters of credit (LOCs) instead, as performance security.
However LOCs “don’t offer any payment protection to subcontractors, suppliers and laborers who have worked on the job,” said McNamara, who also stressed that “LOC beneficiaries will be the ‘concessionaire’ ” or private investors providing the financing for the P3.
“A performance bond guarantees to the owner of the project that the project will be completed according to the underlying construction contract,” she said.
“A payment bond guarantees that subcontractors, suppliers, material, men, and laborers who have provided labor, services, or supplies to a project will be paid.”
Moreover, LOCs tend to be in an amount covering only a small portion of a project, often just 10 percent to 20 percent. Payment and performance bonds, on the other hand, “each provide up to the full amount of the construction contract,” McNamara said.
And yet P3s are a tempting concept at a time when national infrastructure needs and public sector budgetary challenges are so acute.
Deficient Roads and Bridges
Six years ago, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) warned that the country’s bridges would reach their average expected lifespan of 50 by 2015.
In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) “report card” grade for America’s infrastructure was a dismal D+.
“Deficient roads, bridges, and ports hurt our GDP, our ability to create jobs, our disposable income and our competitiveness with other nations,” ASCE President Randall Over said in April.
So little has been done to shore up the nation’s bridges and other infrastructure that ASCE estimated deficient and unreliable surface transportation will cost each American family $1,090 a year in disposable income by the year 2020.
At a time when there is serious pressure on public entities to stretch their infrastructure project capacity, many state and municipal officials are looking to P3s for assistance, said Dorothy Gjerdrum, senior managing director of Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.’s public sector practice.
However risk specialists and decision-makers need to know the potential pitfalls of these arrangements and consider the broad range of uncertainties, she said.
Risks and Responsibilities
Gjerdrum, who spent more than a decade as a risk manager for a pool of county governments in New Mexico, said that there are a myriad of risks and legal issues involved when implementing a P3, including the review of the contractual agreement and which parties will be responsible if there is a major loss.
“There needs to be a significant review as to who is in the best position to bear the consequences if something happens,” Gjerdrum said.
“Sometimes public entities will take on too much responsibility for the things that can go wrong,” she said. Alternatively, “they may be too trusting that the large private organizations with whom they have partnered with will bear responsibility.”
“In a P3 situation,” said Travelers’ McNamara, “risks that would have traditionally been kept or retained by the public entity project owner are being pushed entirely down to the concessionaire level.”
Design builders who once negotiated with public entities are now dealing with a private concessionaire entity instead, she said.
Beyond that, different coverage issues will arise once a building or renovation project moves from the “design-build” phase into the “maintain and operate” phase. These issues call for the involvement of multiple insurance experts and good risk management oversight, said Gjerdrum.
“One example is whether (and how) sovereign immunity will apply if a facility is owned by a public entity but operated by a private business,” she said.
Sovereign immunity in many circumstances means that the sovereign or government involved in a project is immune from lawsuits or other legal actions.
“What happens if the private business fails? What if revenue projections fall short? What if the environment changes and the service or facility is no longer viable?” Gjerdrum asked.
“P3 solutions can help public agencies solve a myriad of infrastructure problems, but managing the associated risks requires thorough review, long-term thinking and good oversight,” she said.
There are clear advantages to P3s too, of course.
Virginia pioneered the P3 concept more than 20 years ago with a prison that was privately designed and built, according to Governing the States and Localities magazine.
“The prison, which ended up costing $42 million to construct, had to be built to state specifications, but the private company had its own design ideas that arguably were more efficient and less expensive,” according to the magazine.
“The point they made was they could build it cheaper,” Michael Maul, associate director of the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget, said to the magazine.
“It was built more quickly and for less cost.”
Virginia officials estimated that using a P3 to build and operate the prison would generate savings of between 15 percent and 20 percent.
But some in the insurance industry are weighing in with their own concerns. Among the critics is the industry group, the Surety and Fidelity Association of America (SFAA).
In its 2012-2013 SFAA Annual Report, the organization stated its position that P3s are “just another method of project delivery” and that “the construction portion of the project needs to be bonded under the Little Miller Act.”
The Little Miller Act — which is based on the federal Miller Act — requires state contractors to post performance bonds.
“By issuing a bond, the surety provides the public entity and the taxpayers and subcontractors with assurance from an independent third party, backed by the surety’s own funds, that the contractor is capable of performing the construction contract. The other primary benefit of the bond is that the surety responds if the contractor defaults,” the SFAA stated.
Insurers are working with P3s, however. Stephen Rea, general counsel for Liberty Mutual Surety in Boston, said that Liberty “has written bonds for P3 projects in states where enabling legislation requires public work to be bonded under Miller or Little Miller Act legislation.”
Drew Brach, a Marsh managing director and U.S. surety practice leader, said that he has done work with several P3s, adding that surety bonds were obtained for each and every one of the deals.
Strain on Capacity
Surety industry capacity may also become more of an issue as P3s gain momentum.
Given that P3 projects are often valued at $500 million and up, project size could be a strain on a smaller surety provider’s ability to underwrite projects, said Roland Richter, vice president, marketing and analytics for Liberty Mutual Surety.
“Only a handful of sureties have sufficient capacity to bond P3 projects,” he said.
“Thus, as some of these P3s move forward, smaller surety companies may find an erosion in their premium base as their customer base may not be large enough to bid P3 projects,” Richter said.
On the other hand, Rick Ciullo, chief operating officer at Chubb Surety, said that surety underwriting capacity has been on the rise since 2007.
“Contractors became better risks during the construction boom of 2002 to 2006, though they may have had trouble getting surety capacity because the surety industry was losing money during this construction boom.”
Ciullo said he has seen many more projects within the industry valued at over $500 million bound by surety insurers since 2008.
Marsh’s Brach has also seen surety industry capacity grow over time. Five years ago, Brach said, if you asked an underwriter to issue a $3 billion bond, the answer was generally “no,” said the brokerage executive.
But that’s changed, he said — even for larger projects.
“Some sureties say we’re going to analyze case by case what bonding is required [for a P3 program] and decide what the risk is.
“I have not seen a single project recently where the surety industry has not been able to provide a 100 percent performance and 100 percent payment bond,” said Brach.
A Dreaming Team
Chris Thorn is known as one of the most creative risk managers in the business. After all, his risk management program hit the cover of Risk & Insurance® in March, 2012.
Now the senior manager, payments and risk, for Southwest Airlines is working with Riskonnect, a technology partner that he thinks can take his program to new heights.
“For us, it’s a platform that gives you so many different tools that if you can dream it, you can build it,” said Thorn.
Thorn ditched his legacy risk management information system in 2012 and started working with Riskonnect, initially using the platform solely for liability claims management.
But the system’s “do-it-yourself” accessibility almost immediately caught the eye of Thorn’s colleagues managing safety risk and workers’ compensation.
“They were seeking a software solution at the time and said, ‘Hey, we want to join the party,” Thorn recalls of his friends in safety and workers’ compensation.
“For us, it’s a platform that gives you so many different tools that if you can dream it, you can build it.”
–Chris Thorn, senior manager, payments and risk, Southwest Airlines
What was making Thorn’s colleagues so jealous was the system’s “smart question” process which allows any supervisor in the company to enter a claim, while at the same time freeing those supervisors from being claims adjusters.
The Riskonnect platform asks questions that direct the claim to the appropriate category without the supervisor having to take on the burden of performing that triage.
“They love it because all of the redundant questions are gone,” Thorn said.
The added beauty of the system, Thorn said, is that allows carriers and TPAs to work right alongside the Southwest team in claims files while maintaining rock-solid cyber security.
“This has sped up the process,” Thorn said.
“Any time you can speed up the process, the more success you’re going to have when you make offers to settle claims,” he said.
Since that initial splash in claims management, the Riskonnect platform has gone on to become a rock star at Southwest in a number of other areas. And as Thorn suggests, the possibilities of the system are limited only by the user’s imagination.
With a little creativity and help from Riskonnect as needed, a risk manager can add on system capabilities without having to go on bended knee to his own information technology department.
In the area of insurance policy management, for example, the Riskonnect platform as built by Thorn now holds data on all property values and exposures that can in turn be downloaded for use by underwriters.
Every time Southwest buys a new airplane, the enterprise platform sends out a notice to the airlines insurance broker, who in turn notifies the 16 or 17 carriers that are on the hull program.
Again, in that “anything’s possible” vein, the system has the capability of notifying the carriers, directly, a tool Thorn said he’s flirting with.
“It is capable of doing that,” he said.
“We’re testing out this functionality before we turn on it loose directly to the insurance companies.”
In alignment with the platform’s muscle in documenting, storing and reporting liability and property exposures, the system monitors and reports on insurance carrier financial strength.
If a rating agency downgrades a Southwest program carrier’s financial strength, for example, the system “pings” Thorn and his colleagues.
“Not only will we know about it, but we will also know all programs, present and past that they participated on, what the open reserves are for those policy years and policies,” Thorn said.
“That gives us even more comfort that we have good, solid financial backing of the insurance policies that are protecting us,” Thorn said.
Like many of us, Chris Thorn didn’t set out to work in risk management and insurance. Thorn is a Certified Public Accountant, and it’s that background that allows him to take creative advantage of the Riskonnect platform’s malleability in yet another way.
With the help of the Riskonnect customer service team, Thorn added a function to the platform that allows him to calculate the cost of insurance policies on a monthly basis, enter them into a general ledger and send them over to his colleagues in accounting.
“It’s very robust on handling financial information, date information, or anything with that much granularity,” Thorn said.
The sky is the limit
Thorn and Southwest are only two years into their relationship with Riskonnect and there are a number of places Thorn thinks the platform can take him that have yet to be explored, but certainly will be.
“It’s basically a repository of anything that’s risk-related, it continues to grow,” Thorn said.
“This has sped up the process. Any time you can speed up the process, the more success you’re going to have when you make offers to settle claims.”
–Chris Thorn, senior manager, payments and risk, Southwest Airlines
Not only have Southwest’s safety and workers’ compensation managers joined Thorn in his work with Riskonnect, business continuity has come knocking as well.
Thorn met in July with members of Southwest Airline’s business continuity team, which has a whole host of concerns, ranging from pandemics to cyber-attacks that it needs help in documenting the exposures and resiliency options for.
That Enterprise Risk Management approach will in the future also involve the system’s capability to provide risk alerts, telling Thorn and his team for example, that a hurricane or fast moving wildfire is threatening one of the company’s facilities.
Supply chain resiliency and managing certificates of insurance for foreign vendors are other areas where Thorn and his team plan to put the Riskonnect platform to good use.
“That’s all stuff that’s being worked on by us,” Thorn said.
“They’ve given us the tools, but we’re trying to develop how we’re going to use it,” he said.