Thought leadership: Zurich and The Hill talk disaster preparedness in our nation’s capital

Zurich and The Hill sponsored an event on September 14 titled “Preparing for the next disaster: A policy discussion on community resilience” at the Newseum in our nation’s capital. The event was attended by dozens of D.C. opinion molders and policymakers and also generated activity on social media platforms including Twitter and Instagram. Following are the remarks from Zurich North America Chief Legal Officer Dennis Kerrigan who offered the sponsor’s perspective.

Good morning, I’m Dennis Kerrigan, chief legal officer for Zurich North America.

Zurich is pleased to be the sponsor of this important discussion on community resilience. We appreciate the chance to encourage people to come together to discuss the ways in which communities can respond when faced with a natural disaster. I’d like to thank Tim Manning for his insights about resiliency and the government’s interest and involvement in preparation activities.

In case you are not aware, Zurich is a global leader in managing risk, insuring some of the best companies in the world. Ninety percent of Fortune 500 companies count on Zurich to help them understand and protect themselves from risk.

Because of our concern about how disasters impact the communities in which we live, Zurich started a global flood resilience program to learn from them. We focus on floods because they affect more people globally than any other natural hazard – 250 million people each year. Since 2013, Zurich has invested more than $50 million in community resilience. As a result of our investment, Zurich has helped 125,000 people in flood-prone communities around the world through research, community-based programs, and leveraging our risk expertise.

Resilience makes economic sense. Currently, 87% of international aid spending goes to emergency response and relief. But we know it is more cost effective to invest in pre-event risk reduction. Studies show a dollar spent on pre-event mitigation saves five dollars in future losses. The next time a flood strikes a community, we’re helping find ways to make the aftermath be less severe or even help avoid the next time from ever becoming a disaster.

That’s important especially as you watch the news and see residents of Baton Rouge clean up debris after devastating floods wiped out their homes and neighborhoods. Not to mention the terrible flooding in West Virginia, and the floods in Ellicott City, Maryland. It paints a distressing picture: flood events like these are happening all over the world and are increasing in frequency. According to NOAA, since 1990, there’s been a five percent increase in the number of storms in the U.S. causing at least $1 billion in damage.

Each time we watch the devastation unfold, we are aware that the increase in frequency means the next storm is likely right around the corner. In some instances, we are still working to recover from one storm when the next is on the horizon.

In October 2015, South Carolina residents experienced an all-too similar tragedy. Now, almost a year later, some affected residents are just starting to get back on their feet. Together with Aon and ISET-International, Zurich last week released a post-event review on the floods that took the lives of 19 people in South Carolina. The economic loss from the floods was substantial—an estimated $12 billion in total losses with approximately $2 billion in insured and other funded losses.

The post-event review is based on methodology developed by Zurich and its research partners that takes a consistent, analytical approach to uncovering the root cause of a disaster. To gain insights for the report, a team of scientists spent time in South Carolina interviewing a number of people with direct knowledge of the event, including those in the communities affected by the floods. While 22 counties were declared federal disaster areas, the report focuses especially on flooding in Columbia and Charleston. These cities are located in different types of flood risk environments, with Columbia inland and Charleston on the coast. The report shows how the same storm can unfold very differently across specific locations.

The lessons learned and recommendations found in the South Carolina report can be applied to many other communities exposed to flood risk. Here are a few of the top findings:

1. Build back better – In the aftermath of a disaster, recovery efforts should be carried out in ways designed to enhance resilience, not just to build back to the status before the disaster.
2. Address misconceptions about flood risk – Some people wrongly believe that a rainfall or flooding considered a “1,000-year” event may reoccur only after 999 years have passed, but that categorization does not indicate actual frequency of such an event.
3. Increase personal awareness and responsibility – New residents may not be aware of a city’s history and the flood risk that goes with living in particular neighborhoods.
4. Make buyouts strategic – Use federal disaster recovery funds to buy out high-risk properties and convert the land to open space.
5. Review insurance penetration and accessibility – Engage governments and policymakers on ways to increase the purchase of flood-related insurance.
The findings of the report show us that we can learn from the experiences and knowledge gained from South Carolina to help prevent future floods from becoming disasters. On your chairs this morning is a document describing the findings in more detail, and it includes a link to the full report. If you are interested in reading the full report, it can be downloaded from our website at Zurich N A dot com slash flood report.

On behalf of Zurich, a special thank you to all the participants in today’s event. Presently you will hear a panel of experts discussing building resilience, including NAIC President John Huff, a champion of flood resilience and mitigation efforts. You will also gain a Congressional perspective from both Senator Joe Manchin and Representative Blaine Leutkemeyer. Finally, I want to thank all of you for coming today and being a part of the conversation on this important topic. I’d now like to turn the program back to The Hill to continue the discussion on ways to build community resilience.

The event was driven by the Zurich North American Government & Industry Affairs and Corporate Communications teams. Photo above from left: Lynn Grinsell, Gregg Sheiowitz, Laura Favinger, Dennis Kerrigan, Mike Moran and John Kinsler.