Flood risk is one of the most severe natural hazards in the United States, yet maybe it is one of the least well-managed, and least understood by insurers. It is not surprising that many insurers have chosen to stay on the sidelines of the U.S. flood insurance market, which has been dominated for more than 40 years by the state-backed National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
But slowly, the hurdles to private sector involvement are starting to clear, through the combined efforts of the industry, FEMA, and even private citizens. It will be an exciting time for private insurers and Americans if the new flood reform bill, H.R. 2874 passes through the Senate, as measures in the bill include increased acceptance of private flood insurance by mortgage providers, easing of fixed claims limits, and open source access to FEMA’s extensive claims database.
Time is tight for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). A three-month extension of the NFIP signed by President Donald Trump to help devise a long-term financial solution for the program, expires on December 8. In the lower chamber of Congress, the 21st Century Flood Reform Act, which would update and reauthorize the NFIP, was passed (237-189) by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, November 14. The fate of the scheme now rests with the Senate, allowing just over three weeks in total to make a choice; adopt the House bill or a version of it; advance its own bill, or simply do nothing.
Congress has an opportunity to reform the NFIP; to build a public-private partnership and transfer risk to the private insurance sector. This bill both entices private insurance firms into flood underwriting, and provides more power to the consumer to quantify and manage their own flood risk.
Hurricane Irma has placed flooding firmly back on the agenda for Florida. Irma did affect the entire state and flooding was widespread, affecting areas from Brickell in Miami’s financial district, to the northern counties. With dire storm surge forecasts predicted for the Gulf Coast, a new storm surge record was set in Jacksonville, but places such as Tampa, St. Petersburg, Naples, and Fort Myers experienced shallower flood depths than the predictions.
Florida homeowners are more aware of flood risk than most — and are well versed in buying flood insurance. For those who live in high-risk flood areas and have a mortgage from a federally regulated or insured lender, it is a mandatory requirement to purchase flood insurance from either the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) or alternatively through a private flood insurer.
Shortly after its landfall, my colleague, Ben Brookes, and I drew attention in the RMS live Harvey updates to the fact that the storm was “not a wind event.” Like Sandy, flood losses, we wrote, would quickly overtake wind losses.
We recalled how Dr. Robert Muir-Wood had insisted back in February 2014 that “water is the new wind.” Those with exposure in harm’s way, he argued, needed to “get to grips with the details of modeling and managing hurricane-driven flood risk.”
It was unsurprising, then, to hear Robert on BBC World News last week describing Hurricane Harvey’s destruction as absolutely avoidable. Yes, Harvey is an extreme event. There were, however, historical precedents for stalling rain storms — and there are clear business cases for investing in resilience before extreme events, rather than just responding after.
Pete Dailey, vice president – Product Management, RMS
On Wednesday, RMS reported that, based on our modeling, the overall combined wind, surge, and inland flood losses from Hurricane Harvey will be US$70-90 billion. My colleague, Daniel Stander, had previously also pointed out that “economic losses from Harvey will outstrip insured losses by a considerable margin.” That’s because the uptake of private flood insurance in the U.S. is very limited.
RMS continues to refine its estimate of the insured losses from Harvey. In the meantime, I think it’s worth looking in more detail at the potential exposure of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to this major hurricane.
Last Monday, Daniel wrote that it was likely that “Harvey will produce at least US$4 billion in flood claims, triggering the NFIP reinsurance program.” With NFIP up next month for reauthorization and reform, this is an important point — and not just for the 25 reinsurers underwriting over US$1 billion of NFIP’s claims.
Matthew Nielsen, senior director, governmental and regulatory affairs, RMS
Daniel Stander, managing director, RMS
This blog was first published in The Hill
Breezy Point, N.Y., Oct. 31, 2012 – Street scene after Hurricane Sandy. Source: FEMA
Katrina. Sandy. Matthew. We tend to remember the big-name storms that take over the news cycle for weeks, offering up poignant images of rescued families.
Yet many of us barely notice losses racked up annually from flooding events all over the U.S.: flash floods in the Midwest and Northeast, torrential rains in bone-dry Houston, dam spillways exploding in formerly drought-stricken California.