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An ounce of prevention ...

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An overarching lesson from 2005's Hurricane Katrina is that post-catastrophe recovery is “much more difficult, lengthy and expensive” when there's no robust pre-disaster plan in place, according to a paper released Wednesday by Zurich Insurance Group Ltd. and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

“It is our jointly held view that too many communities, too many sectors of society, and too many individuals have not embraced the difficult truth of Katrina — that one needs to prepare in advance of the next disaster,” according to “Beyond Katrina: Lessons in Creating Resilient Communities.”

The paper urges that steps be taken now to reduce exposure through “investment in cost-effective measures and improve our capacity to bounce back after a catastrophe.”

The paper spells out a series of specific goals to improve resilience. These include prioritizing flooding as the highest risk, devoting more resources to pre-event reduction rather than post-event disaster relief and measuring resilience to guide an investment strategy.

The paper says that while significant investments have been made since Katrina to address resiliency goals, much remains to be done.

“Our analysis further emphasizes the need for a commitment among all sectors of society to 'build it forward,' making the investments that will help reduce natural disaster risks and create a more resilient future for all communities,” according to the paper.

The paper cited several specific lessons Zurich learned from Katrina. These included creating a global resource model to respond to disasters, improving catastrophe modeling and developing customer-specific emergency response planning.

“Our mission is to help our customers understand and protect themselves from risk,” said Steve Hatch, Zurich North America's chief claims officer. After each storm, “we go back and do a lessons-learned” review to determine what the insurer should do differently the next time and “how do we get better?” Mr. Hatch said.