Open to Improvement
U.S. risk professionals with significant hurricane and other CAT-prone exposures are looking for a clearer picture when it comes to catastrophe loss modeling, an area fraught with confusion and increasing criticism.
Time and again, those whose risks are being evaluated have complained that they have too little control over how their specific exposures generate loss estimates, and how those estimates are calculated.
“Open” systems and “transparency” have become the buzzwords of the catastrophe modeling community of late, but how user-friendly will the newest catastrophe models really become over the next year or so?
It’s a question that the Oasis Loss Modeling Framework hopes to help answer. The London-based nonprofit represents a total of 25 insurers, reinsurers and brokers, including units of Allianz, Zurich, SCOR, Liberty Mutual, Willis, Guy Carpenter, Hiscox, RenaissanceRe and PartnerRe.
Oasis announced in January that its framework would bring down the cost of modeling, and provide transparency and greater flexibility for users via a program that is open to anyone with an interest in creating new catastrophe risk models.
Hopes are high. Still, the reality is that thus far, Oasis has no models available for U.S. hurricane and quake, though program developers hope to have such models available by the end of the year, said Dickie Whitaker, Oasis project director.
Initially, Oasis will offer models of floods in Great Britain and Australia, earthquake in North Africa and the Middle East, and brush fire in Brazil, Whitaker told Risk & Insurance®.
Scott Clark, risk and benefits officer for the Miami-Dade County Public School system, said he wants to see Oasis offer a global open platform that would allow those most knowledgeable about the school system’s risks to go into a modeling system and enter information that will produce the best outcomes — as opposed to the rather limited current system.
“I would like to be able to drill down into second- and third-tier modifiers to best affect the modeling outcomes including roof strapping, roof construction, etc.” — Scott Clark, risk and benefits officer for the Miami-Dade County Public School system
“I would like to be able to drill down into second- and third-tier modifiers to best affect the modeling outcomes including roof strapping, roof construction, etc.,” said Clark.
Currently, critics said, traditional models have been too focused on the aggregation of risk that insurers tend to calculate — rather than individual exposures and properties.
The modelers are also criticized for changing models from year to year in ways that do not reflect actual changes in loss exposure.
“There is a tremendous variation between RMS 11 and RMS 13,” said John Burkholder, director of risk management for Broward County, Fla.
For example, when Marsh compared the two models, it found that medium-term rates (which represent storm activity potential based on climate conditions over the next five years) were reduced 28 percent in RMS version 13 for CAT 3 to CAT 5 events, while the nationwide average was reduced 16 percent.
“How could you have that much variation in risk exposure over just a two-year period?” asked Burkholder. “It’s difficult to reconcile those models with the actual individual risks.”
Claire Souch, senior vice president of business solutions at RMS in London, said that the main drivers of change between RMS 11 and RMS 13 came from new insights into hurricane activity: the number of hurricanes per year, where hurricanes are formed and where they make landfall.
“The scientific view of hurricane activity has changed since 2011, in part because of the considerable research RMS and other organizations have carried out to determine what drives hurricane landfall frequency,” she said.
“Ocean temperatures in the Atlantic have been increasing,” she said.
“Yet, over the last few years we’ve seen very low levels of hurricanes making landfall, something that the change between the 2011 and 2013 model versions reflected,” said Souch.
Clark of Miami-Dade County schools echoed the concerns of many risk managers.
He recalled the impact of the controversial RMS version 11, which initially more than doubled the school district’s probable maximum losses (PML) to $1.9 billion, making it difficult for Clark to assemble the insurance limits he needed — until he got another modeling firm to reassess the risk.
The way it’s worked traditionally using RMS, AIR or EQECAT modeling, there is a huge blind spot for risk managers and others wanting to know how the models project losses, he said.
Karen Clark of catastrophe risk modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. in Boston, said she understands risk managers’ concerns.
Traditional models may lack quantifiable data and can change quickly and dramatically, she said. When risk specialists are dealing with countrywide exposures, geographical changes may be less critical.
“The traditional models are not robust for individual locations and concentrated exposures.” — Karen Clark,co-founder and CEO, Karen Clark & Co.
Traditional models were never designed with risk managers in mind but with insurers in mind, she said.
“The traditional models are not robust for individual locations and concentrated exposures,” she said.
Models and Granularity
Often, risk managers and their brokers need to bring their underwriters’ attention to outliers that don’t fit with the usual assumptions.
That is one of the problems with traditional models, said Burkholder of Broward County.
“We’ve got a bulkhead at Port Everglades which models as a building,” Burkholder said.
However, it is not nearly as vulnerable.
“It is constructed solely of concrete and steel, so the model should, for loss modeling purposes, recognize its actual characteristics in the results to more accurately reflect the correct exposure,” he said.
In an effort to address some of the problems — particularly with making their systems more transparent to users, all three of the major CAT modeling vendors have released new products: Touchstone from AIR Worldwide, Risk Quantification & Engineering (RQE) from EQECAT and RMS(one) from RMS.
Souch of RMS said that RMS(one) provides “an exposure and risk management platform that enables any company to store and analyze all of the information they have about their risk, acting as a system of record for all of the risk items in the business, with the ability to run RMS and other models.”
She said RMS(one) is exposure and model agnostic so it allows companies to use catastrophe models to simulate what the impact of a hurricane or other disaster might be for all the exposures they have.
In addition, RMS’ models on RMS(one) are open and enable users to understand the impact of different scenarios, she said, such as if three hurricanes made landfall in one year instead of a single hurricane.
AIR Worldwide’s Touchstone is “an open platform, allowing clients to import third-party hazard layers or run multiple alternative models on a single platform for a more complete view of risk,” according to the company.
The major CAT modeling vendors have attempted to address some of the criticisms related to transparency.
Once more, the emphasis is on transparency and user interface.
“For example, say you believe losses from CAT 3 hurricanes should be 10 percent higher than AIR’s standard model says they are,” said Rob Newbold, senior vice president with AIR Worldwide.
A user can go into Touchstone and modify losses to better reflect their loss experience, or their own underwriting policies.
“However, there will always be the AIR default view, alongside any modified views,” said Newbold.
Several firms are now providing data and models through Touchstone. These include Ambiental, ERN, EuroTempest, IHS Inc., KatRisk, Met Office, PERILS, and SSBN.
EQECAT has its own take on the “open model” approach.
Rodney Griffin, senior vice president of client solutions and product management for CoreLogic EQECAT, said that RQE’s simulation platform “runs 181 natural catastrophe probabilistic models for 90 countries across the globe.
The RQE platform is inherently open in that additional models or components such as the hazards or vulnerabilities can be added to the platform.
“CoreLogic EQECAT is committed to being transparent and this is reflected in the granularity of reports down to individual site levels and the very extensive documentation which includes analyses of the key drivers of risk,” Griffin said.
On the compliance side, with respect to Solvency II in Europe and ORSA in the United States, he said the company “provides tailored documentation to transparently support these requirements.”
Oasis, meanwhile, promises to offer perspectives from multiple modeling firms, including Karen Clark & Co. Clark noted that her company’s platform, RiskInsight, allows risk managers to build their own models.
At the same time, she said, companies can also take advantage of Oasis to see what other models say.
Other Oasis modelers include JBA Risk Management, Spa Risk LLC, and Long Beach, Calif.-based ImageCat, which plans to focus specifically on earthquake risk via SesmiCat.
“The compelling case for the Oasis is that risk managers will be able to have access to the best of breed models tailored for specific hazards and specific regions through a single portal and at a reasonable cost,” said Charles Huyck, executive vice president at SesmiCat creator ImageCat, Inc.
“SeismiCat, for example, can potentially provide risk managers access to a host of sophisticated earthquake modeling capabilities previously utilized only by the structural engineering community in the United States,” he said.
So how exactly does a risk manager tap Oasis?
A risk manager can join as an associate member, which is free, said Whitaker. Full members are financial institutions or underwriters, all of whom pay a membership fee, he said.
Risk managers can download the software and search for a model of the geographical region and peril in question, and then negotiate their fee with the provider, he said.
Karen Clark said that the costs to access Oasis or RiskInsight will undoubtedly be a lot less than for the traditional modelers.
“Quite simply, you’re going to get more models on it,” Clark said when asked why industry members might want to tap Oasis versus an individual modeler like her firm.
“Via Oasis, you’ll be able to look at many different models’ views. That’s the [whole] idea,” Clark said.
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.
Contractors Face Complex Insurance Scenario
With today’s expanding global marketplace, U.S.-based construction companies naturally seek growth opportunities in foreign countries. For instance, China has been on a decades-long building spree. Middle Eastern nations continue to invest in massive developments. Cross-border construction activity among developed countries, particularly in Europe and Japan, remains robust.
That’s the good news for U.S. contractors considering or already involved in global projects. On the flip side, it’s critical to realize that international opportunities present different challenges than domestic projects.
Construction services represent a significant portion of global trade. World exports of construction rose 2% (to $115 billion) in 2012, the World Trade Organization estimates. The European Union and Asia represent the major share of that trade. Yet, while international trade in construction is on the rise, every country retains its own laws regarding insurance, so building a multinational insurance program represents a significant challenge.
ACE’s recently published whitepaper, “Global Construction: International Opportunities, Local Risks” focuses on educating risk managers about the complexities of going global.
Key issues for contractors to consider include:
Legally speaking, compliance for U.S. contractors operating outside the U.S. is much more complex than for their domestic operations. For example, by operating in different countries, multinational contractors must adhere to a myriad of local national laws and regulations regarding the “duty of care” they owe to the general public and other third parties. While most of the developed world has established employer duty-of-care legislation, the majority of the countries where many of these new global projects are available have not. A contractor’s insurance program should be flexible enough to handle claims in several different jurisdictions and provide adequate coverage for awards granted in emerging, as well as developed, legal jurisdictions.
Continuity of coverage across borders
For projects in foreign countries, a proactive risk management strategy should not only address the wide range of exposures typical in a given construction project, but also the impact that the differing local laws and regulations may have on the insurance coverage. For example, a contractor may have to obtain local insurance policies for various lines of business to cover the risks associated with its operations and to be compliant with local insurance requirements.
Building multinational solutions
A multinational program using “non-admitted” coverage can be a cost-effective alternative to local coverage. Such non- admitted coverage is usually arranged in the parent company’s home country to insure exposures in other countries. Some countries, however, don’t allow non-admitted coverage, while others may allow it subject to conditions such as prior approval. In the past the threshold question was whether non-admitted insurance could be used, but today companies should also consider potential changes in enforcement practices as well as evolving regulations.
Local services can be crucial
Besides compliance issues, companies should address issues such as how local claims will be handled and paid, and which other local services they may need in the event of a claim or incident. For example, companies building projects in the European Union may want to purchase environmental coverage that responds to the demands of the European Environmental Liability Directive in order to provide proper insurance protection for potential liability associated with damage to the environment or natural resources. On a broader level, catastrophe planning should be part of a global risk management strategy.
Public/private partnerships may bring new risks
Another consideration for contractors revolves around project structure. Typically in the U.S., construction projects have been driven either by the owners or the contractors and the insurance coverage reflected that through an owner- or contractor-controlled insurance program (OCIP/CCIP). Today, while more U.S. projects are being structured as public-private partnerships, because the structure is more common in Europe, U.S. contractors considering projects abroad may encounter it for the first time. Public-private partnerships raise questions about how risks and liabilities are apportioned among the parties, so contractors may find themselves sharing responsibility for risks that are not typically part of a standard project, or have increased exposures for professional liability.
M&As can impact insurance programs
With the growth of the global construction economy, and the rising need for the development or improvement of infrastructure in emerging economies, an increasingly multinational approach has led to consolidation and merger-and-acquisition activity in the construction marketplace. As this trend continues, companies also need to consolidate their insurance programs to achieve better efficiency by individual lines of business and to meet insurance requirements in different countries.
The takeaway: local risks, global solution
For contractors working in more than one country, maintaining consistent insurance coverage across borders while controlling costs clearly presents a number of challenges. By using a controlled master policy and admitted insurance from local carriers, contractors potentially gain greater insight into their claims trends and an increased ability to identify locations experiencing significant losses. With this information, contractors also will be in a better position to take corrective action and reduce losses.
Finally, while varying insurance regulations and markets must be addressed, contractors should evaluate the insurance carrier, its experience and presence in foreign markets and its relationships with local insurers around the world. When it comes to international construction projects, the right insurance coverage will play a crucial role in long-term success.
To learn more about how to manage global contracting risks, read the ACE whitepaper: “Global Construction: International Opportunities, Local Risks.”
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with ACE Group. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.