Tag Archives: Typhoon

What can you learn from Exposure?

Many RMS team members are active bloggers and speakers at speaking engagements, and contribute to articles, but to capture even more of our expertise and insight, and to reflect the breadth of our activities, we have created a new magazine called Exposure, which is ready for you to download.

The aim of Exposure magazine is to bring together topics of special interest to catastrophe and risk management professionals, and recognize the vast area that individuals involved in risk management must cover today.  There is also a theme that we believe unites the risk community, and that is the belief that “risk is opportunity,” and the articles within Exposure magazine reflect that this is a market seeking to avoid surprises, improve business performance, and innovate to create new opportunities for growth.

Within the foreword to Exposure, Hemant Shah, CEO of RMS, also reflects on an “inflection point” in the industry, a mix of globalization, changing market structures, to technology, data and analytics, offering a chance for the industry to innovate and increase its relevance.  In Exposure, there is a mix of articles examining perils and regions, industry issues, and articles discussing what’s coming up for our industry.

Within perils and regions, Exposure looks at opportunities for U.S. and European flood, the effect extra-tropical transitioning has on typhoons in Japan, and the impact that secondary hazards have, such as liquefaction, and the earthquake sequencing that hit the low-seismicity area of Canterbury, New Zealand in 2010 and 2011.

The magazine also tackles issues around Solvency II, the emergence of the “grey swan” event, why reinsurers are opting to buy or build their own insurance-linked securities fund management capabilities, and wraps up with Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer for RMS, explaining how insurers can help drive the resilience analytics revolution.

Please download your copy now.

A Perennial Debate: Disaster Planning versus Disaster Response

In May we saw a historic first: the World Humanitarian Summit. Held in Istanbul, representatives of 177 states attended. One UN chief summarised its mission thus: “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set in motion an ambitious and far-reaching agenda to change the way that we alleviate, and most importantly prevent, the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

And in that sentence we find one of the enduring tensions within the disaster field: between “prevention” and “alleviation.” Between on the one hand reducing disaster risk through resilience-building investments, and on the other reducing suffering and loss through emergency response.

But in a world of constrained political budgets, where should we concentrate our energies and resources: disaster risk reduction or disaster response?

How to Close the Resilience Gap

The Istanbul summit saw a new global network launched to engage business in crisis situations through “pre-positioning supplies, meeting humanitarian needs and providing resources, knowledge and expertise to disaster prevention.” It is, of course, prudent to have stockpiles of humanitarian supplies strategically placed.

But is the dialogue still too focused on response? Could we not have hoped to see a greater emphasis on driving the disaster-resilient behaviours and investments, which reduce the reliance on emergency response in the first place?

Politics & Priorities

“Cost-effectiveness” is a concept with which humanitarian aid and governmental agencies have struggled over many years. But when it comes to building resilience, it is in fact possible to cost-justify the best course of action. After all, the insurance industry, piqued by the dual surprise of Hurricane Andrew and then the Northridge earthquake, has been using stochastic models to quantify and reduce catastrophe risk since the mid-1990s.

Unfortunately risk/reward analyses are rarely straightforward in practice. This is less a failing of the models to accurately characterise complex phenomena, though that certainly is a challenge. It’s more a question of politics.

It is harder for any government to argue that spending scarce public funds on building resilience in advance of a possible disaster is money well spent. By contrast, when disaster strikes and human suffering is writ large across the media, then there is a pressing political imperative to intervene. As a result many agencies sadly allocate more funds to disaster response than to disaster prevention, even though the analytics mostly suggest the opposite would be more beneficial.

A New, Ambitious form of Public Private Partnership

But there are signs that across the different strata of government the mood is changing. The cities of San Francisco and Berkeley, for example, have begun to use catastrophe models to quantify the cost of inaction and thereby drive risk-reducing investments. For San Francisco the focus has been on protecting the city’s economic and social wealth from future sea level rise. In Berkeley, resilience models have been deployed to shore-up critical infrastructure against the threat of earthquakes.

In May, RMS held the first international workshop on how resilience analytics can be used to manage urban resilience. Attended by public officials from several continents the engagement in the topic was very high.

The role of resilience analytics to help design, implement, and measure resilience strategies was emphasized by Arnoldo Kramer, the first Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) of the largest city in the western hemisphere, Mexico City. The workshop discussion went further than just explaining how these models can be used to quantify the potential, risk-adjusted return on investment from resilience initiatives. The group stressed the role of resilience metrics in helping cities finance capital investments in new, protective infrastructure.

Stimulated by commitments under the Sendai Framework to work more closely with the private sector, lower income regions are also increasingly benefiting from such techniques – not just to inform disaster response, but also to finance the reduction of disaster risk in the first place. Indeed there are encouraging signs that these two different worlds are beginning to understand each other better. At the inaugural working group meeting of the Insurance Development Forum in Singapore last month there was a productive dialogue between the UN Development Programme and the risk transfer industry. It was clear that both sides wanted action, not just words.

Such initiatives can only serve to accelerate the incorporation of resilience analytics into existing disaster risk reduction programmes. This may be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address the shameful gap between the economic costs of natural disasters and the fraction of those costs that are insured.

We cannot prevent natural disasters from happening. But neither can we continue to afford to spend billions of dollars picking up the pieces when they strike. I am hopeful that we will take this opportunity to bring resilience analytics into under-served societies, making them tougher, more resilient, so that when catastrophe strikes, the impact is lessened and societies can bounce back far more readily.

Asia’s Costliest Cyclones: The Curse of September

The northwest Pacific is the most active tropical cyclone basin in the world, having produced some of the most intense and costly cyclone events on record. The 2015 typhoon season has been particularly active due to this year’s strong El Niño conditions.

Sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. El Niño is characterized by unusually warm temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. (NOAA)

The unpredictable nature of the El Niño phenomenon, which affects the genesis and pathway of tropical cyclones, and the complexity of tropical cyclone systems underscore the need to fully understand typhoon risk—particularly in Japan where exposure concentrations are high. Catastrophe models, such as the forthcoming RMS® Japan Typhoon Model, using a basin-wide event set to model the three key correlated perils—wind, inland and coastal flood—are more effective in enabling firms to price and manage the ever-evolving exposures that are at risk from this multifaceted peril.

The Significance of September

Peak typhoon season in the northwest Pacific basin is between July and October, but it’s September that typically sees the highest number of strong category 3-5 typhoons making landfall: eight of the top ten greatest insured losses from northwest Pacific tropical cyclones since 1980 all occurred in September.

In September, during El Niño years, Guam is significantly more susceptible to a higher proportion of landfalls, and Japan and Taiwan experience a slight increase due to the genesis and pathway of tropical cyclones. While wind is the primary driver of tropical cyclone loss in Japan, inland and coastal flooding also contribute substantially to the loss.

In September 1999, Typhoon Bart caused $3.5 billion in insured losses due to strong winds, heavy rainfall, and one of the highest storm surges on record at the time. The height of the storm surge reached 3.5 meters in Yatushiro Bay, western Japan, and destroyed coastal defences, inundating vast areas of land.

Five years later in September 2004, Typhoon Songda caused insured losses of $4.7 billion. Much of the loss was caused by rain-related events and flooding of more than 10,000 homes across South Korea and Japan in the Chugoku region, western Honshu.

Table 1 Top 10 Costliest Tropical Storms in Asia (1980-2014):

Date Event Affected Area Maximum Strength (SSHWS) Insured Loss ($mn)
Sept, 1991 Mireille Japan Cat 4 6,000
Sept, 2004 Songda Japan, South Korea Cat 4 4,700
Sept, 1999 Bart Japan, South Korea Cat 5 3,500
Sept, 1998 Vicki Japan, Philippines Cat 2 1,600
Oct, 2004 Tokage Japan Cat 4 1,300
Sept 2011 Roke Japan Cat 4 1,200
Aug – Sept, 2004 Chaba Japan, Russia Cat 5 1,200
Sept, 2006 Shanshan Japan, South Korea Cat 4 1,200
Sept, 2000 Saomai Japan, South Korea, Guam, Russia Cat 5 1,100
Sept, 1993 Yancy Japan Cat 4 980

Munich Re

September 2015 – A Costly Landfall for Japan?

This September we have already seen Tropical Storm Etau, which brought heavy rains to Aichi Prefecture on Honshu Island causing immense flooding to more than 16,000 buildings, and triggered dozens of landslides and mudslides.

The increased tropical cyclone activity in the northwest Pacific this year has been attributed to an El Niño event that is forecast to strengthen further. Two factors linked to El Niño events suggest that this September could still see a costly landfall in Japan:

  • El Nino conditions drive the formation of tropical cyclones further eastward, increasing the travel times and distances of typhoons over water, giving rise to more intense events.
  • More northward recurving of storms produces tropical cyclones that track towards Japan, increasing the number of typhoons that could make landfall.

Combined, the above conditions increase the number of strong typhoons that make landfall in Japan.

Damaging Typhoons Don’t Just Occur In September

Damaging typhoons don’t just occur in September or El Niño years – they can happen under any conditions.

Of the ten costliest events, only Typhoon Mireille in 1999 and Typhoons Songda, Chaba, and Tokage, all of which made landfall in 2004, occurred during El Niño years

Look out for more information on this topic in the RMS paper “Effects of the El Niño Southern Oscillation on Typhoon Landfalls in the Northwest Pacific”, due to be published in October.

The 2015 Northwest Pacific Typhoon Season: Already a Record-Breaker

While the Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be below average this year, the North Pacific is smashing records. Fuelled by the strengthening El Niño conditions, the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE)—used to determine how active a season is by measuring the number of storms, their duration and their intensity—continues to set unprecedented highs for the 2015 season.  According to Dr. Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University, the North Pacific ACE is 30% higher for this time of year than at any other time since 1971.

Philip J. Klotzbach, Colorado State University

To date, there have been 12 named Northwest Pacific storms, of which three have strengthened to Category 5 super-typhoon status, and two have strengthened to Category 4 typhoon. Typhoon Maysak was the first of the super-typhoons to develop and is reportedly the strongest known storm to develop so early in the season—it eventually passed over the northern Philippines in late March as a tropical depression. Super-Typhoons Noul and Dolphin followed in quick succession in May, with Noul scraping the northern tip of the Philippines, and Dolphin tracking directly in-between the islands of Guam and Rota.

China is recuperating after getting hit by Typhoons Linfa and Chan-Hom only days apart. Linfa made landfall on July 9, bringing strong winds and heavy rainfall to Hong Kong and southern China’s Guangdong province. Two days later, Chan-Hom brought tropical storm-force winds and heavy rainfall to Taiwan and the Japanese Ryukyu Islands before briefly making landfall as a weak Category 2 storm over the island of Zhujiajian in the Zhejiang province. Prior to landfall, Chan-Hom was anticipated to pass over Shanghai, but swung northeast and missed China’s largest city by 95 miles. Despite this near-miss, Chan-Hom still stands as one of the strongest typhoon to have passed within 100 miles of the city in the past 35 years.

Typhoon Nangka, the first typhoon to hit Japan this season, intensified to a Category 4 storm before ultimately making landfall as a Category 1 storm over the Kochi Prefecture on Shikoku Island, Japan. Although Nangka’s strength at landfall was weaker than originally forecast, the high level of moisture within the system caused significant rainfall accumulations, leading to widespread flooding and the threat of landslides. While there was an initial fear of storm surge in Osaka Bay, there has been limited damage reported.

This record-breaking season has been strongly influenced by the strengthening El Niño conditions, which can be characterised by several physical factors including warmer sea surface temperatures, a higher number of Category 3-5 typhoons, and a greater proportion of typhoons that follow recurring or northward tracks—all of which have been evident so far this year.

With El Niño conditions expected to continue intensifying the storms to come, this season highlights the necessity for a basin-wide multi-peril model, connected through an event-based approach and correlated geographically through a basin-wide track set. These will be featured in the new Japan typhoon model, due out next year, followed by the South Korea and Taiwan typhoon models. The RMS China typhoon models currently models typhoon wind, inland flood and surge for a correlated view of risk.

As El Niño conditions continue to bolster the Northwest Pacific typhoon season, RMS will be monitoring the situation closely. In September, RMS will be releasing a white paper on ENSO in the West Pacific that will provide further insight into its affects.

What’s at risk as Super Typhoon Hagupit approaches the central Philippines?

Only thirteen months since Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated parts of the Philippines, the region is again under threat from a large typhoon. Typhoon Hagupit, locally referred to as Typhoon Ruby, is currently Category 4 strength and expected to make landfall over the weekend.

Hagupit isn’t forecast to be as strong as Typhoon Haiyan; however, its projected path takes it across southern Luzon Island, as well as an area 35 miles south of the Central Capitol Region that has a high concentration of exposure at risk of substantial wind damage.

As the typhoon makes landfall, there is also the potential for storm surge along low-lying coastal areas, which are characterized by complex coastlines and bays.

At this stage,there still remains a large degree of uncertainty surrounding Hagupit’s forecast track, intensity, and landfall locations, which the RMS catastrophe response team is monitoring closely.

High concentrations of exposure at risk

The Central Capitol Region includes Quezon City, the largest city in the Philippines, as well as Manila, which is the second largest city and serves as the capitol. This region has the highest concentration of economic insurable exposure ($165.5 billion), which accounts for approximately 20 percent of the country’s total insurable exposure. Using the RMS Economic Exposure datasets, we can see that $91 billion is residential, $59 billion commercial, and $14.4 billion is industrial exposure. Quezon City has the highest value of insurable exposure with $32.3 billion, of which 65 percent is commercial.

In addition, our Industrial Clusters Catalog shows that a high proportion of industrial clusters could be impacted by Hagupit. These are located in the surrounding districts of Rizal and Laguna within the Calabarzon region, as well as the Lima Technology Center, which is in the direct path of typhoon.

Despite being forecast to making landfall further north than Typhoon Haiyan, Hagupit is still likely to affect areas that are still recovering from the impacts of Typhoon Haiyan.

Lessons from Typhoon Haiyan Reconnaissance

Typhoon Haiyan illustrated that the complex geometry and shallow water where Haiyan made landfall can give rise to significant storm surge heights, evidenced by high surge levels experienced in San Pedro and San Pablo Bays, affecting Tacloban City. The Philippines is characterized by these complex coastlines and shallow waters, and future typhoon events, including Typhoon Hagupit, could similarly cause significant storm surge in other areas of the Philippines.

In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, our scientists conducted extensive field reconnaissance work. They observed that buildings were structurally more resilient to typhoon winds because of the region’s high risk of earthquakes. There is abundant use of reinforced concrete frames, which ensures the structural integrity of the buildings for earthquakes and winds.

Wind alone did not cause substantial structural damage to structures built with reinforced concrete; however, the severe storm surge flooding caused the failure of some reinforced concrete framed buildings. Instead, wind damage was most evident to the roofing of buildings, particularly light aluminum roofs. Large span commercial and industrial light metal roofs collapsed, but concrete roof tiles preformed better.

Since Haiyan, the Filipino government has been actively discussing sponsoring a catastrophe bond with the World Bank, but the process is complex and will take time to develop.

How is the 2014 North West Pacific Typhoon Season Shaping Up?

July’s Typhoon Matmo was the 10th named typhoon of 2014 and the 5th to make landfall in the West Pacific basin. Typhoons can occur throughout the year, but the peak of the season is July through October, when nearly 70 percent of all typhoons develop, so we expect to see more activity in the region in the coming months.

Let’s take a look at recent activity and typhoon risk in China, the Philippines, Japan, and Taiwan.


To date, China has been impacted by three landfalling typhoons in 2014, the strongest of which was Rammasun, a Category 4 strength storm, with maximum sustained winds of 135 mph impacting Hainan and Guangdong provinces, and the autonomous region of Guangxi.

The southeastern coastal provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, and Zhejiang are most vulnerable to landfalling typhoons. They also represent some of China‘s most economically developed areas. Typhoon Rammasun impacted Guangdong province in July, bringing damaging wind and heavy rain. Overall in China, typhoon-induced flooding is the biggest driver of risk in high-exposure areas such as Guangdong, driving approximately 80 percent of the average annual losses from typhoon.

Insurance penetration is extremely low in China, varying by province. On average, about 15 percent of residential property risk is insured. Hainan, where Typhoon Rammasun first made landfall, has one of the lowest insurance penetrations in China, while Guangdong, one of the more prosperous provinces, is the second largest province for property insurance purchases with 41.7 billion Yuan ($6.8 billion) in direct premiums in 2012, according to the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.


Typhoon activity kicked off early this year in the Philippines with Tropical Storm Kajiki in January. More recently, the second storm to make landfall was Typhoon Rammasun, which hit Legaspi City in the Albay Province, south of the capital Manila, as a Category 3 storm. In a 36-hour period it brought 11.6 inches of rainfall, leading to flash flooding and landslides. The provinces impacted by Rammasun contain over $180 billion of insurable commercial and industrial building exposure, and over $215 billion of residential building exposure.

Like China, the Philippines lags behind some other markets in Asia in relation to insurance expenditure – non-life insurance penetration is 0.09 percent – though with higher proportionally for commercial and industrial businesses, which are centred around Manila and the industrial zones.


Tropical Storm Neoguri made landfall over the Kumamoto Prefecture on Kyushu Island in southwest Japan as the country’s first landfall this season. Neoguri brought strong winds, heavy rains, flooding, landslides, and mudslides to parts of southwest Japan. On Kyushu, the city of Ebino reported 13 inches of rain in the first 24 hours, and on Okinawa, heavy rainfall triggered flash flooding.

The southwestern parts of the country are the most vulnerable, particularly Shikoku, Kyushu, and San-in. Tokyo is rarely hit by typhoons and much of the coastline is protected from by the tsunami walls designed to protect from a four-meter storm surge.

Japan is the second largest non-life market in gross premium terms behind the U.S., and there is relatively high penetration of personal lines insurance, with over 50 percent of households buying building insurance. However, corporate Japan is massively under-insured compared to its western equivalents. Many large corporations only insure their property on an indemnity basis, while many small to medium-sized enterprises are completely uninsured.


So far this season, Taiwan has only been impacted by Typhoon Matmo, which passed through the center of the country as a Category 2 storm, bringing heavy rain and strong winds.

Storms typically travel towards the northwest from the Philippines, losing speed when they encounter the mountain chain running north-south down the center of Taiwan, and dropping most of their rain on the eastern side, causing rivers to overflow due to the extra water runoff from the mountains.

The most dangerous typhoons are those that approach from the south. The north-south mountain chain funnels them north up the Taiwan Straits so that they hit the western and northwestern parts of the island, including Taipei, where large industrial and commercial exposure is situated, such as the Hsin Chu Industrial Park in the province of Hsinchu which reportedly has a combined property/business interruption accumulation of $33.33 billion. However, insurers have reported few insured losses arising from wind damage alone, as the main damages are a result of flooding. Most of the losses caused by typhoons in Taiwan are agricultural, and thus uninsured. Insurance penetration is very low compared to some other markets in South East Asia in relation to insurance expenditure, with insurance penetration for non-life at 0.08 percent.

Building Better Models Through Collaboration

To calibrate and validate their models, catastrophe modeling firms ideally have access to large amounts of high-quality, high-resolution claims and exposure data. But the insurance industry has so much to offer than just data.

In addition to exposure data, insurance companies have detailed knowledge of the claims practice itself, the exact policy wording in the underlying exposure, and local expertise. In addition, many insurance companies today have highly experienced teams of scientists that evaluate vendor cat models, or build their own models in-house.

At RMS, our approach to building models has evolved in recent years to capture the insurance industry’s expertise and insight. At the start of a project, we strive to create partnerships with interested clients or companies to ensure we are aligned with market needs. These technical collaborations usually last for the duration of the model development process, and involve regular technical exchanges between RMS and partners to share methodologies and data sources. The exposure and claims data analysis becomes just one part of this broader initiative.

Over the past two years, we has been extremely fortunate to collaborate with two of Japan’s largest primary insurers, Tokio Marine and Sompo Japan, on the development of RMS’ earthquake and typhoon models for Japan.

Collaboration was in full force this June, when RMS’ typhoon modelers met with Hajime Sano, Head of Catastrophe Analytics, Sompo Japan, and his team in Tokyo for a day of technical discussions around hazard and vulnerability. The Sompo modeling team provided interesting ideas around open modeling features within the new model in order to better create their own view of risk.

Hajime Sano also joined us at our Exceedance conference in April as a featured guest speaker. At the event he explained why Sompo Japan develops in-house models, and why they decided to collaborate with RMS on the RMS Japan Typhoon Model update.

Tokio Marine in RMS London Office

At the end of June, Yuki Mizota from Tokio Marine Nichido Fire Insurance and Mizuki Shinohara from Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting visited our RMS London office. Yuki Mizota gave a very insightful presentation on the market conditions in Japan, and we had a number of productive discussions around exposure, hazard, and vulnerability.

Tour along Arakawa River

One highlight of the collaboration so far with Tokio Marine was a tour along the Arakawa river in Tokyo. During the visit we were able to see firsthand weak spots in the river defense system and witness the new super levees.

Such firsthand intelligence and data is vital in building a strong flood model. We conducted additional research leading to a much deeper understanding of the importance and state of the river defenses in Japan.

Partnerships with Tokio Marine and Sompo Japan

Our partnerships with Tokio Marine and Sompo Japan are great examples of what can be achieved when we work closely with clients to develop and update models. For us and our partners, this collaborative thinking is a win-win: the partner gains deeper insight into RMS modeling methodologies, a key element of their overall enterprise risk management, and RMS is able build better models based on the best science, the best data, and the additional expertise of local insurers. The industry as a whole benefits from state-of-the-art, well-calibrated models built collaboratively by some of the best minds across the insurance community.


Rammasun is One of the Strongest Typhoons to Hit Southeast China in Recent Years

RMS closely monitored typhoon Rammasun last week as it picked up strength en route to the Philippines. The world also watched, remembering the catastrophic damage typhoon Haiyan caused last November. While Rammasun did not wreak as much havoc as Haiyan, it still left a trail of damaged buildings and flooded crop fields in the Phillipines, southeast China and Vietnam. Below, RMS looks at the property damage and insurance industry implications as the typhoon hit both denser commercial metropolitan areas and agricultural provinces.


RMS reports that on Friday, July 19 Super typhoon Rammasun, one of the strongest to hit southeast China in recent years, made three landfalls in the provinces of Hainan, Guangdong, and Guangxi.

Rammasun has significantly impacted the Philippines, southeast China and Vietnam. Rammasun brought strong winds, heavy rain, and storm surge to some coastal areas with close to 300,000 buildings damaged in the affected countries.

In China, damaging wind and floods have destroyed at least 37,000 homes and ravaged 468,500 hectares of crops in Hainan, Guangdong and Guangxi provinces. Virtually all brick-and-tile houses in the town of Wengtian, Hainan were either destroyed or had their roofs removed. Within a 24 hour period up to 15 inches of rain fell in the city of Haikou; the week before Rammasun hit, the southeastern provinces were reportedly experiencing heavy floods, which have only been exacerbated by the typhoon.

“Typhoon-related flood, which includes both rainfall driven and coastal flooding, contributes as much as 80% to typhoon average annual loss in China, with the coastal provinces driving the loss,” said Nikki Chambers, hazards scientist at RMS. “July to October are the most active months for typhoons in this region. On average 6 typhoons make landfall a year in China and typhoon Rammasun highlights the importance of accounting for all sources of typhoon losses, of which flood is the main driver.” Insurance penetration is extremely low in China particularly for residential risk, slightly higher for commercial and industrial lines of business. On average, about 15% of property risk in China is insured. Insurance penetration varies by province; Hainan has one of the lowest insurance penetrations in China. Guangdong is one of the more prosperous provinces; it is the second largest province for property insurance purchases, with 41.7 billion yuan (US$6.8 billion) in direct premiums for property insurance in 2012, according to the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.


The typhoon wreaked havoc earlier in the week in the northern Philippines, which is still rebuilding after Typhoon Haiyan. Rammasun made its first landfall in the largely agricultural provinces south of the capitol Manila, leaving 94 people dead, and over 111,000 houses damaged, of which nearly 28,000 have been totally destroyed and 83,000 have been partially damaged., Based on analysis from the RMS Philippines Economic Exposure Database, the impacted provinces in the Philippines from Rammasun contains over 100 bn USD of insurable commercial building exposure, 80 bn USD of industrial building insurable exposure, and over 215bn USD of residential building exposure. Based on the RMS Philippines industrial cluster catalog, industry is clustered around metro Manila and in areas to the north and south of the capital in Central Luzon, which are located within the affected area of Rammasun. The insurance penetration rates in the Philippines is relatively low, though higher for commercial and industrial lines of business and will be centred around Manila and the industrial zones.


In northern Vietnam, Typhoon Rammasun made landfall Saturday morning, causing heavy flooding. At least eight people have died and it has affected more than 6,000 homes. The typhoon has damaged 3,300 hectares of rice and other crops and disrupted traffic in the region. Typhoon, Matmo, with maximum winds of 150km/h, is now threatening the area ravaged by Rammasun. RMS is monitoring the situation closely.

The Dangerous City of Tacloban

The city of Tacloban, on the island of Leyte, is the largest city in the eastern Visayas region of the central Philippines. In a 2010 survey by the Asian Institute of Management, Tacloban was ranked fifth in the “most competitive” cities in the Philippines, and second in the class of “emerging cities.” Before Haiyan’s storm surge, the city was thriving, with only one third the national average poverty levels.

However, from the natural hazards perspective Tacloban would also be high up on a list of the most dangerous medium size cities in the world.

Tacloban faces east into the tropical Pacific where there is the largest, deepest and hottest pool of ocean water on the planet, fuel for cooking up intense super typhoons, and sustaining their intensity all the way to landfall. More significantly the port city is located in the apex (or “armpit”) of a funnel-shaped coastline – where the eastern coast of the island of Leyte meets the southern coast of the island of Samar. Although the 2km wide “San Juanico” channel separates these islands, in a fast westerly moving typhoon, this channel cannot relieve the large dome of water pushed ahead of the storm.

Funnel shaped coastlines are notorious for concentrating and amplifying tropical cyclone storm surges. New York City is situated at the apex of the funnel-shaped coastline where New Jersey meets Long Island, amplifying the surge from Super-storm Sandy. Osaka in Japan is also at the apex of funnel coastline. However intense typhoons pass close to Leyte far more often than intense hurricanes come to New York or Japan.

The ground on which the quarter of a million population city of Tacloban has grown up is remarkably flat and only a meter or two above high tide level. A 4-6 meter storm surge and its accompanying waves can penetrate far inland, ripping houses off their foundations for several blocks, just as happened in the cities along the southern coast of the State of Mississippi in Hurricane Katrina.

Tacloban is built on a former wave-cut platform, at the foot of active cliffs, which has become raised out of the sea by active tectonics. For the city is also located in the frontline of a plate boundary.

Offshore to the east, less than 80km from the neighbouring island of Samar, a deep sea trench, marks where the Philippines Sea plate moves down beneath the Philippines, at around 50mm per year. The 1300 km NNW-SSE Philippines subduction zone appears to be locked, and has not broken in a major earthquake through the past four hundred years, since the start of Spanish colonial rule.

If, as is suspected, the Philippines subduction zone is capable of generating a giant Mw9 earthquake, then this will be accompanied by a large tsunami, as in Sumatra 2004 and Tohoku, Japan in 2011. Tacloban is very much in the frontline of such a tsunami – the biggest city, on low ground, facing the open Pacific. A tsunami at 10 m or more could cause more casualties and destruction even than the 2013 storm surge.

Tacloban city was founded as a fishing village and more recently achieved fame as the birthplace of Imelda Marcos. Some parts of its history are obscure, in particular when it first became a municipality, as the records were all destroyed in a previous typhoon. The name Tacloban has the potential to recur on the list of future catastrophes. Only action in reconstruction, relocating the city away from the low lying coast, can reduce that potential.

Life Safety on a Cat 5 Coastline

Many of the thousands of lives lost in Super Typhoon Haiyan could have been saved if a proper storm surge forecast had been provided, and if that forecast had been turned into effective evacuations moving people to buildings inland out of reach of the surge.

The civil defense personnel were there on the ground and Philippines has a sophisticated system of disaster management. The civil defense personnel had been told to ensure zero casualties, but had not been given the information by which to achieve this goal. In previous storms lives had been lost in flash flooding and landslides, but Haiyan was moving fast, and rainfall was not a principal hazard.

The Category 5 storm was well forecasted in the days and hours leading up to landfall. Knowing the structure of the advancing wind field, the height and extent of the accompanying storm surge could also have been forecasted. If people had been moved out of the surge zone, that would have significantly increased their chances of survival, but even then they would need protection from collapsing buildings and missiles propelled by the extreme wind speeds.

Maybe people who lived in low lying coastal areas on Leyte may have been lulled by what happened the last time a Super Typhoon (named Mike) was heading towards their island in 1990 when it weakened significantly in the hours before landfall.

Even on the most active Category 5 coastlines, as those of the eastern Philippines, extreme storms are still relatively rare and it is all too easy to forget the threat they bring. Houses that provided protection in lesser storms may prove highly vulnerable in a Category 5 cyclone and its accompanying storm surge.

Super-Typhoon Haiyan is not the first Category 5 cyclone to cause devastation to an island community. Something similar to Haiyan in Leyte happened on October 10, 1780 when an intense Category 5 hurricane hit Barbados. The winds stripped the bark off trees and were said to have left no tree standing (interpreted as reflecting winds over 200 mph). “Every house on the island” was destroyed as well as all the military forts. On one such fort the wind carried a heavy cannon for 30 meters. Many people took refuge in the stone churches on the island, but almost all of these were destroyed by the wind. The final death toll on Barbados was 4,500. The storm continued on its track to spread destruction through St. Lucia, Martinique, and Guadeloupe.

Following the Haiyan disaster, a series of international actions are now needed with a focus on ensuring life safety:

  1. Identify all those coastlines with the potential to be hit by Category 5 tropical cyclones. To gain this intensity requires both very warm sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and a deep thermocline (layer of warm near-surface water), as otherwise the winds and waves from the storm draw cooler waters to the surface and switch off the circulation. The region with the highest SSTs and deepest thermocline is the Pacific immediately to the west of the Philippines. However many tropical and subtropical coastlines can expect to see occasional Category 5 storms: in the Atlantic this includes most of the islands of the Caribbean, the Atlantic Coast of Mexico, the coastlines of Florida and the Gulf and southeast U.S.
  2. For each coastline, work is required to map the maximum potential storm surge flood height, associated with the most extreme credible storms. This will require building a stochastic tropical cyclone event set, with a focus on the most extreme events and running it with a coupled ocean-atmosphere storm surge model. These flood heights will likely be much higher than the typical 100 year return-period flood heights, used for flood insurance in the U.S., for example. This “maximum storm surge flood extent” should be publicized on local maps. For an intense storm no one should be permitted to stay in their property if it lies within the maximum flood extent.
  3. Evacuation options should be evaluated, according to the number of people living in the maximum flood zone. For continental coastlines, evacuation inland will be the preferred option, but there are particular challenges for coastal cities and small islands. As highlighted by Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, preparations should be made to protect those who choose to stay.
  4. Where evacuation is not a complete option, hardened shelters need to be provided, guaranteed to survive the strongest possible winds in a tropical cyclone, and situated above the maximum potential flood extent. These shelters need to have enough accommodation to house all the local population for the few hours in which it takes the storm to pass, as well as containing water and food for at least 2-3 days. These shelters could be in the basements of community centers, businesses or hotels. Shelters could also be constructed in basements beneath houses, exactly as in tornado country. As reconstruction gets underway in the Philippines, international donors should insist that among the replacement buildings there are enough that could also act as future Super Typhoon shelters. Otherwise the conditions will be created for a repeat of this catastrophe sometime in the future.

Category 5 cyclones bring a range of perils—wind, surge and flash flooding. It is particularly dangerous to focus on only one peril at a time. People sheltering from the winds of Super Typhoon Bopha in the southern island of Mindanao less than a year ago were drowned by flash floods. On the south coast of the main Bahamas island of New Providence, I once found a school labeled as a designated hurricane evacuation center, but situated only 2–3 feet above sea level.

Haiyan has highlighted that Category 5 cyclones can present some special challenges. However, given our understanding of disaster management and what can be forecasted and delivered there is now really no excuse for having high casualties in a landfalling tropical cyclone anywhere in the world.