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During major weather emergencies, Arkwright Mutual Insurance Co. is helping clients remember the timeless Boy Scout motto: "Be prepared."

The Waltham, Mass.-based insurer developed its Natural Catastrophe Communication System -- dubbed NATCAT -- in 1995 and has continued to improve on the service ever since. NATCAT is an electronic warning system that notifies clients in the path of a catastrophe via facsimile, giving them a checklist of preventive measures they can take against Mother Nature's wrath.

"We don't cry wolf too much. We really try to focus these on people who really have an exposure," said Frank Suppe, vp and manager of engineering risk information for Arkwright. "Otherwise, customers get a fax from an insurance company and they think it's junk."

At the beginning of the hurricane season, Arkwright sent a preparation fax to several thousand businesses located 100 miles from the coast from Texas to North Carolina and those 50 miles from the coast north of North Carolina all the way up to Maine. Arkwright also extends the service to other areas, such as the Bahamas and Hawaii.

Last Monday, Arkwright faxed a storm preparation checklist to clients along the coast and up to 75 miles inland from the area just south of Wilmington, N.C., and north into Virginia, Mr. Suppe said.

Some of the tips sent out to clients in Bonnie's path were geared toward preventing damage from high winds and flooding (see checklist).

A spokesman for Arkwright said the insurer is weighing whether another fax should be issued regarding Hurricane Danielle.

NATCAT notification is a synergized product that derives its information from two weather services and is sent out as a broadcast fax to targeted clients. Mr. Suppe estimates the service is used about two dozen times a year, for floods, freezing conditions and other potentially disastrous events.

An independent survey conducted to determine NATCAT's effectiveness was conducted after the devastation wrecked by Hurricane Fran, which ravaged the same area Hurricane Bonnie hit. Mr. Suppe said the survey found approximately 80% of Arkwright clients remembered receiving the warning fax, and the same number also said the checklist pointed out an area the client had not thought to secure.

"You've got to work with your insureds yearly to make sure they can see the trees from the forest and hope they do the right thing," he said.

In addition to providing the fax service, NATCAT also installed about 2,000 NOAA radios in client facilities in 1997. Arkwright's client base includes commercial retail, manufacturing facilities, municipalities and universities.