Category Archives: Natural Catastrophe Risk

Day Three at Exceedance 2017

It’s Wednesday, which meant another full day of sessions, presentations, The Lab, a networking event, and more, happening here in New Orleans.

22 Mar 2017 - The Lab EXCD small

Attendance has been exceptional at Exceedance, and some track sessions have been so popular that we are repeating a few of them. For those of you here in New Orleans, the sessions will repeat on Thursday morning, starting at 10 a.m. Be sure to check the Exceedance app for details.

The main theme of the morning’s general session was a demonstration of how RMS is working to help clients explore and manage new and emerging perils, as well as applying RMS model expertise to long-standing lines. Speakers included Mike Steel, Christos Mitas, Robert Reville, Steve Jewson, and Andrew Coburn.

Wednesday Highlights

A few of the highlights of the day’s sessions included:

  • Christos Mitas took us deep into what he described as the unique and exceptional world of cyber terror and cyber risk modeling, with insights that included the upcoming (April 2017) launch of the RMS Cyber Accumulation Management System CAMS v. 2.0.
  • Robert Reville from Praedicat explored product stewardship and product liability risk, explaining the causes of liability accumulation, how the risk of major technological innovation is not known, and how risk accumulation can go on for years.
  • Steve Jewson transported us to India and China, presenting new agricultural risk models – including drought models for four countries. Agricultural risk is one of the top concerns for our clients in Asia-Pacific and Latin America, offering the market exciting growth opportunities.
  • Andrew Coburn from RMS and Dr. Hjörtur Thráinsson from Munich Re combined to present the RMS strategy of a single data standard for all lines and classes of insured exposure, as well as opportunities to generate exposure analytics for more business lines, a single client, or a single location.

Our Second Theme – Resilience – Personified.

The afternoon general session focused on resilience, and the exceptional work happening here in New Orleans over the past several years. Paul Wilson began by acknowledging the accomplishments of Build Change, a partner organization to RMS that continues to build resilience in emerging nations.

He then walked the crowd through a brief history of New Orleans – a city that has been built, and rebuilt, on its experience with hurricanes – before introducing keynote speakers Tanya Harris-Glasow of the Make It Right Foundation, and Jeff Herbert, chief resilience officer for New Orleans. The success of the city following Hurricane Katrina stems from the efforts of innovators like them, and their stories of strength, perseverance, teamwork, and inspiration, truly personify the theme of resilience.

The session continued with Dr. Robert Muir-Wood’s discussion on risk modeling and resilience in Louisiana, and concluded with remarks from RMS President Mike Pritula, who spoke on a variety of topics including his commitment to concentrate on RMS clients, and the challenge of embracing the inevitable change that technology is bringing to the catastrophe modeling community.

The Lab is the Hot Spot in New Orleans!

Customer feedback about The Lab continues to be extremely positive – with a lot of great conversations, product demos, and training sessions focusing on the latest developments from Version 17 and Risk Modeler to help customers choose the best routes for adopting new solutions for 2017 and beyond.

Get Your Mojo Rising on at the EP Tonight!

Last night’s well-attended masquerade in The Lab is now a happy memory. And far as we can tell, everyone removed their masks in time for the first general session this morning.

22 Mar 2017 - Masked Ball Small

But if you’re here at Exceedance, our legendary “EP” is coming up tonight – offering three tastes of New Orleans in one unique location – Generations Hall, built in the 1820’s and originally a sugar refinery.

With three themes, Jazz Night Club, Mardi Gras, and Louisiana Cajun, be ready to put on your dancing shoes and show us your voodoo.

Thursday is our final day in New Orleans, so please check back tomorrow for highlights and a message from Hemant!

Day Two from Exceedance 2017

Tuesday dawned bright and sunny in New Orleans as Exceedance got underway.

More than 900 attendees joined Hemant and eight keynote speakers during the Exceedance General Session. Attendees learned how RMS continues to deliver on its client commitments with the launches of significant capabilities ranging from Version 17, including the new Version 17 RMS® North America Earthquake Model, Version 17 RMS® North Atlantic Hurricane Model, and Risk Modeler powered by RMS(one)®.

In addition to Hemant, Larry Orecklin from Microsoft took to the stage along with Emily Patterson, Mark Powell, Chris Folkman, Emily Grover-Kopek, Josh Ellingson, Ryan Ogaard and Eric Yau.

Tuesday Highlights

“Exceedance is a key part of our continuing dialogue with clients around their needs and priorities, discussing how we can better align to help meet their business goals.”

Hemant Shah, co-founder and CEO of RMS

Hemant demonstrated the superiority of the Version 17 North America Earthquake (NAEQ) Model through a personal anecdote. As you’d expect, Hemant ran the data on his own house through the model and found that his risk is down 27 percent on an expected loss with risk load factor. #lowerhemantspremium

Eric Yau announced that Risk Modeler, powered by RMS(one), will be ready for general availability in April, and described our continued commitment to RiskLink® as a standalone product, as well as being an integral part of the RMS(one) platform.

Josh Ellingson described how Risk Modeler will empower analysts to spend more time understanding the drivers of risk and applying their creativity to expand their book business by collapsing the manual processing of their modeling workflow.

Build Change

The Lab is Where It’s At!

With The Lab in full swing, attendees took advantage of the opportunity to engage directly with RMS experts – getting up-close insights and training on the RMS(one) platform, Version 17 North Atlantic Hurricane Model and North America Earthquake Model, and much more. It’s truly where the action is!

The Mini Theater

Not to be outdone by The Lab, the Mini Theater on Tuesday played host to three insightful and engaging presentations focused on building resilience in an ever-changing world. Topics included Enhancing Urban Resilience: Managing Risk to Critical Infrastructure; Stories from the Field: Nepal Impact Trek with Build Change, and Road to Coastal Habitats in Managing Natural Hazards.

Monday RMS Welcome Reception a Hit

Last night’s RMS Welcome Reception was a hit – and not just because of the live jazz music. The well attended two-hour welcome event included plenty of mingling, great discussions, and delicious bites.

Put on Your Mask and Come to the Party!

For those of you in attendance at Exceedance, join us in The Lab from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. to celebrate our special New Orleans-themed masquerade (no costumes required, but masks will be provided). It will be a fun evening where you can engage with RMS leaders, scientists, and strategists as they reveal the latest RMS solutions.

Check back tomorrow for more highlights from Exceedance 2017!

 

Closing the Resilience Gap: A Tale of Two Countries, Nepal and Chile

Nepal house smallOn April 25, 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck nearly 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.  This resulted in more than 8,600 fatalities, the destruction of around half a million homes, and left 2.8 million people displaced.

Some two years on and rebuilding efforts have barely started, as US$4.1 billion of pledged international aid is reportedly stalled within Nepal’s National Reconstruction Authority.

As of February 2017, 14,000 homes have been rebuilt and some 30,000 homes are in construction – less than a tenth of the total number of homes destroyed.

Contrast this with the situation in Chile. Since a magnitude 9.4 earthquake in 1960, the country has focused on adequate seismic design requirements within its building code, with both government and the public willing to follow the principles of earthquake-resistant building design. And it’s paying off.

After a magnitude 8.8 quake in 2010, structures in areas that experienced strong shaking had less damage than would have been seen if building codes were weaker. Of 370,000 housing units affected by the earthquake, nearly half experienced only minor damage, and just 22 percent were destroyed.  Where commercial buildings were designed with the help of structural engineers, only five were destroyed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

This wide inequity in resilience between two countries facing major seismic hazard brings into sharp focus the urgent need for better quantification, mitigation, and post-event protection for all people, regardless of their location.

Bridging the Divide

Communities around the world can become more resilient both before an event strikes, through practices such as construction education and the implementation of building codes, or post-event by providing insurance and other appropriate risk transfer solutions for individuals and governments. By empowering these stakeholders, our industry can play a vital role in helping to ensure a safer world for all.

Social enterprises such as Build Change, who work on the ground in countries like Nepal, Columbia, and Haiti, are helping to bridge some of this ‘resilience gap’ by working with local governments to institute building codes and train their construction sectors in locally attainable and safe building practices. Over the past 10 years, Build Change has trained over 25,000 people in the basics of safe construction, created over 12,000 local jobs, and enabled 245,000 people to live and learn in safer homes and schools within some of the most catastrophe-prone regions of the planet.

Nepal builder smallThis week, during the annual RMS Impact Trek, both our employees and our clients representing major insurance and reinsurance firms are working together on the ground in Nepal with Build Change, exploring solutions to bring greater synergy and resilience capacity-building to the forefront of our market. We are proud to partner with Build Change by also providing grants to jumpstart and enhance its country programs, and allowing the organization to use our products for free in order to better quantify the risk landscape of the countries in which they operate.

All of us within the insurance industry have an opportunity to reshape the future for communities around the globe by allowing them to better measure and understand their risk, so that responsible mitigation efforts can take shape. We can create tools to help ensure that those who are struck by catastrophe can recover quickly and completely.

At RMS, we remain focused on contributing to this mission by strengthening resilience from the ground up, and continuing our work alongside impactful organizations like Build Change.

The Age of a Roof and The Price You Pay: New Analysis of Hurricane Risk in the U.S.

RMS has completed research on hurricane risk to single-family dwellings using an improved understanding of roof age, which can lead to more accurate loss projections using our models

Residential gable end roof failure in the Bahamas, observed following Hurricane Matthew

Residential gable end roof failure in the Bahamas, observed following Hurricane Matthew

Weak roofs mean losses during hurricanes. During reconnaissance trips to the southeast U.S. and the Bahamas following Hurricane Matthew last fall, RMS experts saw ample evidence of this simple fact.  Their on-the-ground survey highlighted everything from shingle and tile damage to complete roof failures.

Roof weakness significantly influences RMS’ view of structural vulnerability in our North Atlantic Hurricane models, which can factor in a roof’s age, covering, and shape into calculations of potential loss. However, this valuable property data is not captured by many insurers, and this could represent a missed business opportunity to improve underwriting – whether it be pricing or risk selection.

Extending the Data, Refining the Insights

RMS already has a dataset of hurricane claims from over one million single-family dwelling (SFD) homes in Florida and the northeast U.S., representing $240 billion in total insured value. However, this dataset lacks roof characteristics for a majority of the homes, so we augmented it with roof age information obtained from BuildFax, which holds detailed building characteristics for over 90 million properties in over 10,000 U.S. cities and counties. From this enhanced dataset we found:

  • About 70 percent of Florida homes (SFDs) had roofs aged 10 years or older at the time of the 2004-05 hurricanes
  • Roughly half of the Northeast homes (SFDs) had roofs aged 20 years or older at the time of Superstorm Sandy (2012)
  • Only 20% of all homes (SFDs) still had their original roofs, although this proportion was lower for coastal properties than for inland properties

So what was the relationship between roof age and losses? In the second stage of our research, our vulnerability modelers paired the exposure data with 182,000 hurricane claims, totaling $2.25 billion in paid losses, to look for patterns related to roof age.

graph claim severity 1

Normalized severity of Florida claims from the 2004-05 hurricanes, by roof age and selected wind speed bands, for all risk classes

Normalized severity of Northeast claims from Sandy, by roof age and selected wind speed bands, for all risk classes.

Normalized severity of Northeast claims from Sandy, by roof age and selected wind speed bands, for all risk classes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As expected, we found that homes with older roofs generally corresponded with more claims, and claims of greater severity. This was most evident at the low wind speeds experienced in the Northeast U.S. during Superstorm Sandy, as well as at higher wind speeds experienced in the Florida hurricanes. These graphs show that buildings in Florida with a roof older than 20 years are associated with claims that are between 50-100% more severe, compared with buildings having a roof less than five years old. A similar trend appears in the Northeast, but is muted because of the smaller dataset.

That’s the picture from historical data. But what about modeling potential future events? To answer that question we analyzed the enlarged Florida dataset, focusing on how roof age at a particular location compares to the industry average for that region.

patchwork map

Change in modeled AAL by Florida county when including roof age information from BuildFax

The change in modeled average annual loss (AAL) by county shows a patchwork of increased and decreased risk that corresponds to the average roof age of properties in each county.

So we can see that using roof age data leads to significant differences in modeled loss within regions.

That’s a valuable insight in itself. But we decided to drill down a little deeper.

 

 

 

From counties to ZIP codes to individual locations

Although the maximum change in AAL was less than 10% at the county level, changes of up to 20% were observed at the level of ZIP codes. These results show that improved understanding of predominant roof age could influence a company to change its regional underwriting strategy or refine its rating territories.

Going more granular still, within each county and ZIP code there is variation in the roof age of individual homes and this is critical to consider when writing new business. The scatter plot below shows the change in AAL at individual locations. Those homes with older roofs produce higher than average AAL and vice versa.

red blob map

Change in modeled AAL by location when including roof age information. “Location AAL” (x-axis) represents AAL without roof age

So when we go down to the level of individual locations the impact of roof age data leads to loss changes of up to 50%, demonstrating higher significance than at the regional level. For high hurricane risk locations in Florida with large baseline AALs, this change translates into substantial dollar amounts. That’s crucial to know, revealing key opportunities to improve underwriting practices. For instance, companies might choose to quote more competitively on price for properties with newer roofs.

Unsurprisingly, over time strengthened building codes and practices have led to stronger roofs that are more resilient to hurricane damage. But this research tells us much more – the sheer magnitude of modeled loss changes observed was significant, with clear implications for profitability, as explained by BuildFax CEO Holly Tachovsky:

“These results reveal key opportunities to improve underwriting practices, including pricing and risk selection. A focus on roof age can be the difference-maker for loss ratios in certain geographies. As a result, we see a growing level of sophistication among carriers that want to rate and select with a higher degree of accuracy.”

RMS remains committed to partnerships with industry experts like BuildFax to communicate the business benefits of emerging trends in the (re)insurance space.

Hurricane Risk on the U.S. East Coast: The Latest RMS Medium-Term Rate Forecast is More Than Just a Number

For the meteorologist in me, hurricane and climate research is fascinating in its dynamism. The last two years have seen continuous scientific debate about the state of Atlantic basin hurricane activity, which we’ve reflected on thoroughly in the RMS blog.

But for the insurance industry, it’s more than just a fascinating debate: business decisions depend on clear insight. It’s more than just a number.

In April with the release of the RMS Version 17 North Atlantic Hurricane Model, we will include the latest biennial update to the industry’s long-term rates, in addition to the RMS medium-term rate forecast.

For the first time since its introduction, the RMS medium-term rate forecast has dipped slightly below the long-term rate.

For the U.S. as a whole, the new 2017-2021 medium-term rate forecast MTRof hurricane landfall frequency is now one percent below the long-term rate for Category 1–5 storms, and six percent for major hurricanes (Category 3–5 storms).

Mind the Tail

The impact of the rate changes on the view of risk will vary from portfolio to portfolio. Measuring the new medium-term rate against the RMS Industry Exposure Database, we see a 16 percent decrease in the U.S. average annual loss (AAL) relative to the previous medium-term rate forecast – mainly driven by lower risk in Florida and the Gulf.

However, to focus solely on the headline AAL-based changes, or the national impacts, ignores the risk implications of the unique atmospheric conditions and key features of the new forecast.

At the 250-year return period, the decrease is more muted – at eight percent – which positions the medium-term rate slightly higher (one percent) than the long-term rate. Unlike with previous below-average periods, persisting warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic continue to indicate that the medium-term rate risk remains above the long-term rate in certain key U.S. regions, such as the Northeast.

The Science and Process Underpinning the Medium-Term Rates

Grounded in objective science, we follow a systematic process to develop the biennial medium-term rate each time we update it. We analyze 13 different statistical climate models, which all provide a five-year forecast of activity for the Atlantic basin.

The climate models reflect three main theories of hurricane variability in the Atlantic over recent decades:

  • Shift models identify historical, multi-decadal periods of high or low hurricane activity, which are viewed as natural, inevitable oscillations
  • Sea surface temperature (SST) models identify relationships between SSTs and hurricane landfalls in the past and use these to predict similar patterns in the future
  • Active baseline models suggest that the low activity phase of the 1970s and 1980s was caused not by natural variability, but by high levels of atmospheric aerosols which are not expected to recur in the future

To provide a more reliable forecast, we take a weighted average across all 13 models – based on tests made of each model’s predictive “skill.” These tests compare how well the models predict hurricane activity in sample periods from the past, against what occurred. This rigorous testing process is revisited with each release of the medium-term rate.

The Latest Data – How Do the Climate Models Interpret It?

The new medium-term rate forecast uses updated information from the HURDAT2 hurricane dataset and the latest sea surface temperature data, including the 2014 – 2016 seasons.

MTR2

North Atlantic Basin major hurricane counts, 1970-present

The updated hurricane data reveals a four-year stretch of below-average Atlantic major hurricane activity between 2012 and 2015, leading to a five-year average trend that is decreasing.

MTR3

North Atlantic Basin main development region sea surface temperatures, 1970-present

On the other hand, sea surface temperatures over this same period have been rising. Energy derived from warm temperatures serves as an important driver for hurricanes – so you would expect to see an increasing rate of hurricanes, not fewer.

When the data is fed into the climate models they do not point in the same direction for future hurricane activity.

The shift models used in our medium-term rate forecast focus on the decrease in major hurricanes and identify the seasons since 2011 as statistically distinct from acknowledged active periods observed since 1950. This could be significant because it may indicate a transition to a quieter phase of hurricane activity, as discussed in Nature Geosciences.

But while the shift models indicate this transition, both the sea surface temperature and active baseline models do not identify a similar transition to a less active hurricane phase, in part based on the warmer Atlantic sea surface temperatures.

It’s Not Just a Factor

As I discussed earlier, the medium-term rate considers multiple drivers of hurricane activity, including sea surface temperatures. Peer-reviewed research highlights the influence of sea surface temperatures (SSTs) on hurricane tracks; thus, analysis of projected SSTs provides different forecasts not only of where along the coastline hurricanes are likely to occur, but at what strength hurricanes will make landfall. This is a process that RMS terms regionalization.

During higher sea surface temperature periods, the body of warm water over which hurricanes develop expands eastward towards Africa. This expansion increases the likelihood that hurricanes re-curve away from the eastern U.S. coast, towards the northeast and maritime Canada, following paths similar to hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

In the medium-term rate forecast it is regionalization that causes forecasted activity in the U.S. northeast and mid-Atlantic to be above the long-term average, despite a below-average forecast for the U.S. as a whole. This creates a pattern that differs from normal climatological expectations, which would typically be focused on the risk to Texas and Florida – although, obviously, in those southern states the risk does remain higher in absolute terms.

The forecast’s regionalization also produces slightly above long-term risk beyond the 100-year return period, on the industry U.S. exceedance probability curve. At the 250-year return period, for example, while the new medium-term rate has decreased risk by eight percent, the new forecast remains one percent above the long-term rate. Despite decreases in the forecasted frequency of large loss-causing, tail events in Florida and the northeast U.S., warm Atlantic sea surface temperatures continue to support the possibility of these events occurring at a rate above the long-term average.

Delivering the Model

Pre-release data sets for the new medium-term rate are now available in advance of the April release of the updated RiskLink® Version 17 North Atlantic Hurricane Models. These are accompanied by technical documentation describing the process’ methodology and its impact on risk. It will also be concurrently available within Risk Modeler on the RMS(one)® platform.

For further insights from RMS experts on the new forecast, as well as on model updates and the latest on the RMS(one) solutions platform, join us at Exceedance in New Orleans, March 20-23.

Exceedance 2017 – Coming in Just a Few Weeks!

It’s hard to believe but Exceedance 2017 will be here in just a few weeks, and the excitement is building!

Exceedance_6Feb2Many companies are sending their cross-functional teams to fast track their ability to put new capabilities to work. And with good reason. With the releases of Risk Modeler on the RMS(one)® platform and Version 17 in April, attendees will experience more tracks (22) and more sessions (105) than in previous years.

There will also be many opportunities for interaction with model experts, up close team training, networking opportunities, and so much more. Enabling your success is the driving force behind Exceedance!

Here are some highlights of the topics we are preparing for you and your team:

  • Risk Modeler powered by RMS(one): You will obtain a deep understanding of the modeling and analytics that provide the core of the Risk Modeler workflow, including setting up analyses, creating structures and positions, and accessing models from multiple RiskLink® versions for key use cases such as change management, modeling reinsurance programs, and analyzing insurance portfolios.
  • Version 17 North America Earthquake: The changes to the North America Earthquake Models represent the latest view of risk across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. We will provide the full scope of the update by delving into the model components, including our unique implementation of the latest source models from the USGS, directional loss changes by region and line of business, and detailed loss change exhibits.
  • Event Response: How did your business respond to Hurricane Matthew? Learn what we are doing to enhance RMS Event Response, including future offerings, making it work for your business, addressing the main challenges faced during a real-time event like Hurricane Matthew, and more.
  • U.S. Flood Model: Flood risk management is becoming an increasingly important peril to manage for the insurance industry in the U.S. We’ll provide the latest details on all model components, including the simulation-based model methodology, the innovative vulnerability components of the upcoming RMS U.S. Flood HD Model, and how best to capture opportunities in the evolving U.S. flood market.

The Lab at Exceedance: Solutions, Model Releases, and In-Depth Training with RMS ExpertsExceedance_6Feb

The Lab will be packed with our latest modeling and software releases, in addition to special areas dedicated to research from Horizons (RMS scientific publication) and resilience initiatives across the globe. Over 50 RMS scientists and modelers will be in The Lab to offer technical insights, training, and support – and will be available for personalized discussions.

There’s a Lot to Be Excited About

This is an important year for all of us in the industry, and RMS is ready to meet our commitments to you as we remain on track for a full schedule of delivery throughout 2017. If you’re attending, be sure to let your colleagues know about all Exceedance has to offer.

To see the full agenda with information about the tracks and sessions, The Lab, speakers, networking events, and more, visit the conference website at: exceedance.rms.com. You can also register for Exceedance here. Look for our next blog with more exciting Exceedance updates in the coming days!

Billions in Liabilities: Man-Made Earthquakes at Europe’s Biggest Gas Field

The Groningen gas field, discovered in 1959, is the largest in Europe and produces up to 15 per cent of the natural gas consumed across the continent. With original reserves of more than 100 trillion cubic feet, over the decades the field has been an extraordinary cash cow for the Dutch government and the two global energy giants, Shell and ExxonMobil, which partner in managing the field. In 2014 alone, state proceeds from Groningen were approximately €9.4 billion ($9.8 billion).

But now, costs to the Dutch government are mounting as the courts have ordered that compensation is paid to nearby propery owners for damage caused by the earthquakes induced by extracting the gas. Insurers who were covering liabilities at the field now find that the claims have the potential to extend beyond the direct shaking damage to include the reduction in property values caused by this ongoing seismic crisis. And the potential for future earthquakes and their related damages has not disappeared – a situation which again illustrates the importance of modeling the risk costs of liability coverages, a new capability on which RMS is partnering with its sister company Praedicat.

The Groningen gas reservoir covers 700 square miles and, uniquely among giant gas fields worldwide, it is located beneath a well-populated and developed region. The buildings in this region, which half a million people live and work in, are not earthquake resistant: 90% of properties are made from unreinforced masonry (URM).

The ground above the gas field has been subsiding as the gas has vented out from the 10,000-feet deep porous sandstone reservoir and the formation has compacted. This compaction helps squeeze the gas out of reservoir, but has also led to movement on pre-existing faults that are present throughout the sandstone layer, a small number of which are more regional in extent. And these sudden fault movements radiate earthquake vibrations.

How A Shake Became a Seismic Crisis

The first earthquake recorded at the field was in December 1991 with a magnitude of 2.4. The largest to date was in August 2012 with a magnitude of 3.6. In most parts of the world, such an earthquake would not have significant consequences, but on account of the shallow depth of the quake, thick soils and poor quality building construction in the Groningen area, there were more than 30,000 claims for property damage, dwarfing the total number from the previous two decades.

Since the start of 2014 the government has limited gas production in an attempt to manage the earthquakes, with some success. But the ongoing seismicity has had a catastrophic effect on the property market, which has been compounded by a class-action lawsuit in 2015. It was filed on behalf of 900 homeowners and 12 housing co-operatives who had seen the value of their properties plummet. The judge ruled that owners of the real estate should be compensated for loss of their property’s market value, even when the property was not up for sale. The case is still rumbling on through the appeal courts but if the earlier ruling stands, then the estimates of the future liabilities for damage and loss of property value range from €6.5 billion to €30 billion.

Calculating the Risk

While earthquakes associated with gas and oil extraction are known from other fields worldwide, the massive financial risk at Groningen reflects the intersection of a moderate level of seismicity with a huge concentration of exposed value and very weak buildings. And although limiting production since 2014 has reduced the seismicity, there still remains the potential for further highly damaging earthquakes.

Calculating these risk costs requires a fully probabilistic assessment of the expected seismicity, across the full range of potential magnitudes and their annual probabilities. Each event in the simulation can be modeled using locally-calibrated ground motion data as well as expected property vulnerabilities, based on previous experience from the 2012 earthquake.

There is also the question of how far beyond actual physical damage the liabilities have the potential to extend and where future earthquakes can affect house values. The situation at Groningen, where it took almost thirty years of production before the earthquakes began, highlights the need for detailed risk analysis of all energy liability insurance covers for gas and oil extraction.

Friday 13th and the Long-Term Cost of False Alarms

If the prospect of flooding along the East Coast of England earlier this month was hard to forecast, the newspaper headlines the next day were predictable enough:

Floods? What floods? Families’ fury at evacuation order over storm surge … that never happened (Daily Mail)

East coast residents have derided the severe storm warnings as a ‘load of rubbish’ (The Guardian)

Villagers shrug off storm danger (The Times)

The police had attempted an evacuation of some communities and the army was on standby. This was because of warnings of a ‘catastrophic’ North Sea storm surge on January 13 for which the UK Environment Agency applied the highest level flood warnings along parts of the East Coast: ‘severe’ which represents a danger to life. And yet the flooding did not materialize.

Environment Agency flood warnings: January 13 2017

Water levels were 1.2m lower along the Lincolnshire coast than those experienced in the last big storm surge flood in December 2013, and 0.9m lower around the Norfolk towns of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Predicting the future in such complex situations, even very near-term, always has the potential to make fools of the experts. But there’s a pressure on public agencies, knowing the political fallout of missing a catastrophe, to adopt the precautionary principle and take action. Imagine the set of headlines, and ministerial responses, if there had been no warnings followed by loss of life.

Interestingly, most of those who had been told to evacuate as this storm approached chose to stay in their homes. One police force in Essex, knocked on 2,000 doors yet only 140 of those people registered at an evacuation centre. Why did the others ignore the warnings and stay put? Media reports suggest that many felt this was another false alarm.

The precautionary principal might seem prudent, but a false alarm forecast can encourage people to ignore future warnings. Recent years offer numerous examples of the consequences.

The Lessons of History

Following a 2006 Mw8.3 earthquake offshore from the Kurile Islands, tsunami evacuation warnings were issued all along the Pacific coast of northern Japan, where the tsunami that did arrive was harmless. For many people that experience weakened the imperative to evacuate after feeling the three-minute shaking of the March 2011 Mw9 earthquake, following which 20,000 people were drowned by the tsunami. Based on the fear of what happened in 2004 and 2011, today tsunami warnings are being ‘over-issued’ in many countries around the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

For the inhabitants of New Orleans, the evacuation order issued in advance of Hurricane Ivan in December 2004 (when one third of the city’s population moved out, while the storm veered away), left many sceptical about the mandatory evacuation issued in advance of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 (after which around 1500 drowned).

Agencies whose job it is to forecast disaster know only too well what happens if they don’t issue a warning as any risk looms. However, the long-term consequences from false alarms are perhaps not made explicit enough. While risk models to calculate the consequence are not yet available, a simple hypothetical calculation illustrates the basic principles of how such a model might work:

  • the chance of a dangerous storm surge in the next 20 years is 10 percent, for a given community;
  • if this happens, then let’s say 5,000 people would be at grave risk;
  • because of a recent ‘false’ alarm, one percent of those residents will ignore evacuation orders;
  • thus the potential loss of life attributed to the false alarm is five people.

Now repeat with real data.

Forecasting agencies need a false alarm forecast risk model to be able to help balance their decisions about when to issue severe warnings. There is an understandable instinct to be over cautious in the short-term, but when measured in terms of future lives lost, disaster warnings need to be carefully rationed. And that rationing requires political support, as well as public education.

[Note: RMS models storm surge in the U.K. where the risk is highest along England’s East Coast – the area affected by flood warnings on January 13. Surge risk is complex, and the RMS Europe Windstorm Model™ calculates surge losses caused by extra-tropical cyclones considering factors such as tidal state, coastal defenses, and saltwater contamination.]

After the devastating 2015 earthquake how is Nepal recovering?

It’s more than 20 months since a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal in April 2015, swiftly followed by another earthquake of magnitude 7.3 the next month.

Nearly 9,000 people died. More than 600,000 houses were destroyed and around 290,000 were damaged, according to the United Nations.

On the face of it local people now appear to be getting on with life as normal but look closer and reminders of the disaster are never far away. Whether it be a snaking crack in a wall, large enough to put an arm through – or the still air now taking the space where temples once stood.

International donors have pledged some $4 billion following the earthquake but this is yet to produce the required progress in Nepal’s rebuilding or significantly improve the life of people on the ground.

Framing of a schoolhouse in village hit by earthquake

The scale of the damage is huge and the reconstruction costs – to a country already poor – are overwhelming. The challenge is to rebuild in a way that makes Nepal more resilient to future earthquakes which, in such a seismically active region, are more a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’.

The capital, Kathmandu, wasn’t affected as badly as many feared but as you head out into the hills you see conditions deteriorate considerably. Partially collapsed buildings and piles of rubble are a common sight. Rural Nepalese houses normally consist of three stories, with the first used for livestock, the second for living and the third for agricultural use. These tall buildings are made from heavy and brittle materials, typically stone and mud mortar, which produce a vulnerability to earthquake to match that in many other regions of the world.

Earthquake damage to a traditional three-story house

Recently I saw the damage for myself. Along with four of my RMS colleagues, I travelled to Nepal to support Build Change’s work to strengthen the resilience of rural communities. It’s an organization focussed on helping people in developing countries make their homes and schools better able to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes.

Immediately after the 2015 Nepal earthquake it deployed teams to the affected areas to perform surveys of the damage and validate engineering assumptions as to why some buildings remain standing when others had collapsed.

Build Change’s site engineers oversaw the retrofitting and rebuilding work carried out by local builders who themselves had been trained by Build Change. Being scientists and engineers, the RMS team was impressed to see the high quality of workmanship and design, the positive response of Build Change’s staff to our suggestions for incremental improvements – as well as the engagement of the wider community.

RMS and Build Change staff advise on house retrofitting

And on a personal level, it was this community which made an especially powerful impression on me. Kindness and generosity were shown by the Nepalese who have been hit so hard, yet are so willing to share – we were routinely offered food by the local people who were so interested to know why there are foreigners in their village. Perhaps they took hope from seeing that they hadn’t been forgotten.

Money is not abundant in Nepal, but the engineering expertise is developing. And along with this expertise there is more than enough human grit and determination among the Nepalese people to rebuild their country stronger.

The Cost of Shaking in Oklahoma: Earthquakes Caused by Wastewater Disposal

It was back in 2009 that the inhabitants of northern Oklahoma first noticed the vibrations. Initially only once or twice a year, but then every month, and even every week. It was disconcerting rather than damaging until November 2011, when a magnitude 5.6 earthquake broke beneath the city of Prague, Okla., causing widespread damage to chimneys and brick veneer walls, but fortunately no casualties.

The U.S. Geological Service had been tracking this extraordinary outburst of seismicity. Before 2008, across the central and eastern U.S., there were an average of 21 earthquakes of magnitude three or higher each year. Between 2009-2013 that annual average increased to 99 earthquakes in Oklahoma alone, rising to 659 in 2014 and more than 800 in 2015.

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During the same period the oil industry in Oklahoma embarked on a dramatic expansion of fracking and conventional oil extraction. Both activities were generating a lot of waste water. The cheapest way of disposing the brine was to inject it deep down boreholes into the 500 million year old Arbuckle Sedimentary Formation. The volume being pumped there increased from 20 million barrels in 1997 to 400 million barrels in 2013. Today there are some 3,500 disposal wells in Oklahoma State, down which more than a million barrels of saline water is pumped every day.

It became clear that the chatter of Oklahoma earthquakes was linked with these injection wells. The way that raising deep fluid pressures can generate earthquakes has been well-understood for decades: the fluid ‘lubricates’ faults that are already poised to fail.

But induced seismicity is an issue for energy companies worldwide, not just in the South Central states of the U.S.. And it presents a challenge for insurers, as earthquakes don’t neatly label themselves ‘induced’ and ‘natural.’ So their losses will also be picked up by property insurers writing earthquake extensions to standard coverages, as well as potentially by the insurers covering the liabilities of the deep disposal operators.

Investigating the Risk

Working with Praedicat, which specializes in understanding liability risks, RMS set out to develop a solution by focusing first on Oklahoma, framing two important questions regarding the potential consequences for the operators of the deep disposal wells:

  • What is the annual risk cost of all the earthquakes with the potential to be induced by a specific injection well?
  • In the aftermath of a destructive earthquake how could the damage costs be allocated back to the nearby well operators most equitably?

In Oklahoma detailed records have been kept on all fluid injection activities: well locations, depths, rates of injection. There is also data on the timing and location of every earthquake in the state. By linking these two datasets the RMS team was able to explore what connects fluid disposal with seismicity. We found, for example, that both the depth of a well and the volume of fluid disposed increased the tendency to generate seismic activity.

Earthquakes in the central U.S. are not only shallow and/or human-induced. The notorious New Madrid, Mo. earthquakes of 1811-1812 demonstrated the enormous capacity for ‘natural’ seismicity in the central U.S., which can, albeit infrequently, cause earthquakes with magnitudes in excess of M7. However, there remains the question of the maximum magnitude of an induced earthquake in Oklahoma. Based on worldwide experience the upper limit is generally assumed to be magnitude M6 to 6.5.

Who Pays – and How Much?

From our studies of the induced seismicity in the region, RMS can now calculate the expected total economic loss from potential earthquakes using the RMS North America Earthquake Model. To do so we run a series of shocks, at quarter magnitude intervals, located at the site of each injection well. Having assessed the impact at a range of different locations, we’ve found dramatic differences in the risk costs for a disposal well in a rural area in contrast to a well near the principal cities of central Oklahoma. Reversing this procedure we have also identified a rational and equitable process which could help allocate the costs of a damaging earthquake back to all the nearby well operators. In this, distance will be a critical factor.

Modeling Advances for Manmade Earthquakes

For carriers writing US earthquake impacts for homeowners and businesses there is also a concern about the potential liabilities from this phenomenon. Hence, the updated RMS North America Earthquake Model, to be released in spring 2017, will now include a tool for calculating property risk from induced seismicity in affected states: not just Oklahoma but also Kansas, Ohio, Arkansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Alabama. The scientific understanding of induced seismicity and its consequences are rapidly evolving, and RMS scientists are closely following these developments.

As for Oklahoma, the situation is becoming critical as the seismic activity shows no signs of stopping: a swarm of induced earthquakes has erupted beneath the largest U.S. inland oil storage depot at Cushing and in September 2016 there was a moment magnitude 5.8 earthquake located eight miles from the town of Pawnee – which caused serious damage to buildings. Were a magnitude 6+ earthquake to hit near Edmond (outside Oklahoma City) our modeling shows it could cause billions of dollars of damage.

The risk of seismicity triggered by the energy industry is a global challenge, with implications far beyond Oklahoma. For example Europe’s largest gas field, in the Netherlands, is currently the site of damaging seismicity. And in my next blog, I’ll be looking at the consequences.

[For a wider discussion of the issues surrounding induced seismicity please see these Reactions articles, for which Robert Muir-Wood was interviewed.]