Hurricane Prep: Contingency Planning During COVID-19
July 1, 2020
Last year, 409 natural disasters caused $232 billion in economic losses around the world and were responsible for more than 10,000 deaths and displacing millions of people.
As the world’s climate changes, weather-related natural disasters — such as hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires – are becoming more frequent and more extreme. Aon’s Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight 2019 Annual Report notes that 2019 was the second warmest year on record for land and ocean temperatures since 1851. Early predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggest there is a nearly 50 percent chance of 2020 being the warmest year on record, and a 99.9 percent chance of it being in the top five.
With the Atlantic hurricane season already underway, preparation and response this year comes with a new layer of complexity for business and government leaders: the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Natural disaster events are a large source of potential budget volatility,” says Joe Monaghan, head of Public Sector Partnerships at Aon. “Paired with the health crisis and economic impact of COVID-19, a major natural disaster or weather event will put even more pressure on the public sector.”
In 2019 there were 41 individual events that each caused upward of $1 billion in economic losses. Here’s a look at some of the areas hardest hit by last year’s natural disasters.
DISASTER PREPARATION AND RESPONSE DURING COVID-19
With Atlantic hurricane season underway, governments and businesses are deciding how they’ll prepare for and respond to disasters amid an ongoing pandemic.
“One of the biggest challenges with hurricanes during a pandemic could be more around human capital than property damage,” says Jill Dalton, managing director of Aon’s Property Risk Consulting Group. “If a city needs to evacuate and hotels aren’t open, where will local governments send people? In the past, high-occupancy sports arenas could serve as emergency shelters. Social distancing restrictions may impact that option and capacity in standard shelters.”
Organizations in exposed areas must consider how COVID-19 might affect their hurricane preparations, Dalton says. Contingency plans will have to account for the fact that employees in storm response and recovery roles might be out sick or caring for family members. “Businesses should designate backup individuals and make sure emergency communications plans reflect those backups,” Dalton says.
Building extensive backup plans proves to be a challenge for some companies already under-resourced or cash-strapped because of COVID-19’s economic impact.
The pandemic may also affect availability of emergency supplies. Along with typical necessities such as generators and fuel, businesses should also set aside pandemic supplies like masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.
After a storm, pandemic travel restrictions could make it difficult for insurance companies and adjusters to get the right experts to the site. As a result, the claims process might take longer to resolve, with more communications between the property owner and the insurer. This means mobile claims apps and other technology tools could play a bigger role in assessing damage and filing claims.
For businesses forced to work remotely by the pandemic, the threat of power or communications outages puts added pressure on information technology staffs to back up networks and address changes in the IT risk profile.
One positive outcome of this unique convergence of risks is greater collaboration. “Hurricane season during a pandemic will be a new experience for all of us,” Dalton says. “We’ve seen clients sharing plans, and we’ve been facilitating conversations among business leaders wherever we can to share potential stumbling blocks and best practices.”
AS RISKS INCREASE, SO DOES THE NEED TO BUILD RESILIENCE, CLOSE THE ‘PROTECTION GAP’
In 2019, there might not have been a single “mega”-catastrophe, which is generally described as an individual event with economic costs reaching into the tens of billions (USD), but there was no shortage of sizable climate-related events that caused both extensive loss of life and significant economic loss.
“There continues to be a shift in how we view individual perils and their associated risks, as there are increasingly multi-peril impacts within a single event,” says Steve Bowen, director and meteorologist, and head of Catastrophe Insight at Aon. “A prime example would be a landfalling tropical cyclone that not only has a coastal impact via wind and storm surge, but we see more examples of storms additionally producing extensive inland damage due to flooding, severe convective storms and synoptic winds.”
As natural catastrophes continue to cause significant loss, and with COVID-19 still to run its course, state and local governments are seeing the need to increase resilience in affected areas, as well as to close the “protection gap,” the portion of economic losses not covered by insurance.
“Budgets have already been hammered addressing the global health crisis brought forward by the pandemic,” Monaghan says. “That may mean, more than ever, governments are tempted to defer catastrophe risk mitigation. But data and catastrophe modeling are powering partnerships that can offer governments a lot more flexibility. With a pandemic still ongoing, this offers the reassurance that governments will be able to protect citizens in the event of a co-occurring natural disaster.”
This document has been provided as an informational resource for Aon clients and business partners. It is intended to provide general guidance on potential exposures and is not intended to provide medical advice or address medical concerns or specific risk circumstances. Information given in this document is of a general nature, and Aon cannot be held liable for the guidance provided. We strongly encourage readers to seek additional safety, medical and epidemiological information from credible sources such as the World Health Organization. As regards insurance coverage questions, whether coverage applies or a policy will respond to any risk or circumstance is subject to the specific terms and conditions of the insurance policies and contracts at issue and the relevant underwriter determinations.
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