JIF Insights: Changing the Conversation On Extreme Weather

Extreme Weather panel (L to R): Charles Chamness, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies; Francis Bouchard, Zurich Insurance Group; Stephen Clarke, ISO; Dr. Daniel Kaniewski, FEMA; Dr. Rick Knabb, The Weather Channel; Kenneth Tolson, Crawford & Company

It was like music to my ears to hear risk and resilience experts at Triple-I’s Joint Industry Forum, in a panel on extreme weather, talk so much about communication.

Moderator Charles Chamness, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), kicked off the session by asking Dr. Rick Knabb – on-air hurricane expert for the Weather Channel (TWC) – about the impact on disaster preparedness of tools like TWC’s “storm surge depth simulator,” which Chamness described as “somewhat terrifying.”

If you haven’t seen it, the simulator uses virtual reality technology to show viewers what different water depths could look like and the kind of damage they could generate (see video below).

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback,” Knabb replied. “Some people tell us, `Wow, I didn’t know how bad water can be.’  Some people tell us ‘You’re scaring me.’  And on some level, we’re trying to scare people just enough to respond and to prepare.”

Knabb added that he had no data to prove people who watch such simulations take immediate steps to improve their preparedness, “but we’re seeing the conversation change. Social media is one of the best ways I have to see that happening.”

The challenge remains, he said, to overcome “the positive bias” of people saying, “That looks really scary – but I don’t think it will ever happen to me.”

Francis Bouchard, Zurich’s group head of public affairs and sustainability, took the insurance industry to task for talking about risks in language customers don’t necessarily understand.

“We’re all risk elites here,” Bouchard said. “Our vernacular is not what normal people speak. And yet we insist on using our language to describe something that’s totally alien to most of the public.”

FEMA Deputy Administrator for Resilience Dan Kaniewski agreed.

“At FEMA, we no longer speak in these technical terms like `a one in 100-year event’” – a phrase, he said, that “makes a homeowner who’s just purchase their home think they have 99 years before they have to worry.”

Prepare, Mitigate, Insure

“When we at FEMA talk about ‘resilience,’” Kaniewski said, “what do we mean? We mean preparedness. We mean mitigation. We mean insurance.”

Kaniewski cited evidence from FEMA’s annual household surveys indicating that people in disaster-prone states are “more risk aware and better prepared” than elsewhere in the nation.

“But it’s not enough,” he said. “They have to do so much more.”

Beyond physical preparedness, Kaniewski said, “we have to talk to people about being financially prepared. That means having cash on hand. That also means insurance. Insurance is the best resilience tool.”

“Demand flood insurance”

Knabb agreed, calling upon meteorologists around the world to “talk about insurance more.” He also called on insurance agents to discuss flood coverage for their customers who aren’t in flood zones.

“If it can rain where you live,” he said, “it can flood where you live.”

He recounted buying a new home, asking his agent about flood insurance, and being told, “You don’t need it.”

“I told him, ‘Get it for me anyway,’” Knabb said. “And I’ve changed the graphics I use on The Weather Channel – instead of saying, ‘Ask Your Agent If You Need Flood Insurance’ to ‘Demand Flood Insurance.’”

The panel discussion covered a range of topics, including insurers’ need to emphasize risk reduction and resilience  and the “data fluency” of insurance regulators. You can watch the session below.