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Mark A. Hofmann

White House, insurers partner on building resillience to catastrophes

August 3, 2014 - 6:00am


A new and ongoing dialogue between the White House and the insurance and reinsurance industries could lead to more effective public/private partnerships to promote resilience in the face of severe weather events, according to participants.

The dialogue began with a late-June White House meeting between Obama administration officials and representatives of the insurance sector. According to a “readout” statement issued by the administration, “the discussion centered around opportunities to share data between the federal government and the insurance industry to better communicate and reduce risks to policyholders, communities and taxpayers.”

The statement said the participants, who included Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, presidential counselor John Podesta and other administration officials, as well as insurance and reinsurance leaders, talked about the importance of public education about uninsured risk and the need for more insurable investments that take climate risk into account, and “agreed to find ways to collaborate to create broader community resilience to strengthen our neighborhoods and businesses.”

The preplanned agenda had three topic areas, said Frank Nutter, president of the Washington-based Reinsurance Association of America and one of the participants.

One was how government agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could better convey weather and climate data to the private sector, and how the insurance industry could share its own insights and information about the impact of severe weather.

The second topic area focused on building codes and standards, and the third on how both government and insurers can better communicate to the public the risk of natural events, Mr. Nutter said.

Although the effort grew out of the president's climate action plan, “for us, this isn't so much about climate than it is about extreme weather,” said Julie Rochman, president and CEO of the Tampa, Florida-based Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, who also attended the meeting. “There's always been extreme weather, there's extreme weather now, and no matter what happens with the climate, there will be extreme weather in the future.”

“This was not a check-the-box kind of meeting — this was a meeting designed to begin a dialogue that would actually result in some outcomes,” Ms. Rochman said. “Anything (the federal government) can do to help with loss mitigation is huge.”

Mr. Nutter pointed out that there is no particular timetable for future meetings or reports. Instead, “it's not a national strategy as much as it is where do we have overlapping interests where we could work collegially to advance a common interest in reducing property damage and loss of life as a result of extreme weather events?”

“The White House/insurance industry roundtable is an opportunity to work together on short- and long-term loss prevention solutions to make our country more resilient to extreme weather events,” said Tony Kuczinski, president and CEO of Munich Reinsurance America Inc. in Princeton, New Jersey, in an email.

“This makes absolute sense from a macroeconomic perspective, as lower subsequent losses will generate savings of several times the investment,” he said. “Most importantly — these solutions can protect human lives.”

“I think the goal is to come with initiatives related to better building codes and standards” as well as to find a specific vehicle or platform to communicate risk, such as something along the lines of Europe's Oasis Loss Modeling Framework, a London-based nonprofit open-architecture catastrophe model, Mr. Nutter said.

“We seek a public-private partnership that can reduce the societal impact of severe weather events,” said Munich Re's Mr. Kuczinksi.

“To take it a step further, what if business and home owners received government financial incentives to improve infrastructure and fortify buildings before an event?” he said. “This could save lives and reduce costs in the long run.”

“Ultimately, we support a smart, balanced loss prevention approach that protects the public but does not stifle business or innovation,” said Mr. Kuczinski.

“You always go into meeting with high hopes,” said Ms. Rochman. “I think it's incumbent on both sides of the table to keep the dialogue going.”

 



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