Natural disasters are nothing new. They’ve been recorded for thousands of years.
But they’ve become a growing issue in recent times, says reporter Kurtis Alexander. Both the frequency and intensity of natural disasters have increased, and many scientists believe a warming climate will only lead to more extreme weather in the future. This inevitably means there will be more damage to homes, vehicles and commercial properties.
As an independent agent, it’s critical that you look out for your customers and provide them with coverage that protects them against escalating natural disasters.
Natural Catastrophe Losses
As you might imagine, there have been significant losses related to natural catastrophes in recent years. The Insurance Information Institute reports insured losses stemming from natural disasters reached $78 billion in the US in 2017. That was more than triple the nearly $24 billion from one year earlier.
Looking at long-term data from 1980 to 2017, it’s clear the 2017 insured losses were higher than most. The only year with more insured losses was 2005 with Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, when losses were in excess of $100 billion. Data also suggests a steady rise in natural catastrophe losses overall.
Here are some of the specific natural disasters posing the biggest threats.
The California wildfires of 2018 cannot be overstated in terms of death, damage and destruction. A single blaze in November devoured more than 150,000 acres and destroyed more than 13,500 residential buildings, explain Time reporters Mahita Gajanan et al. And the absolute worst wildfire in state history — the Mendocino complex fire — burned through nearly 459,000 acres, says CNN senior editor Saeed Ahmed.
The wildfires led to death, mass evacuations and thousands of people losing their homes. The fires were so intense, they could be seen from space.
Record-breaking heat was the deciding factor in these fires rather than soil moisture, bioclimatologist Park Williams tells climate change writer Robinson Meyer. July 2018 was the hottest month recorded in California history, with temperatures being five degrees warmer than usual across the state.
Meyer points out that six of the 10 largest wildfires in California history happened within the last decade. So these are not disparate events, but rather indicative of a pattern likely to continue. In terms of estimated insurance losses, wildfires, heatwaves and drought totalled $9.5 billion in 2017 alone, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
And it’s not just California that’s at risk, Arindam Samanta, Ph.D., at Verisk Analytics warns. Wildfires are a legitimate risk to a considerable percentage of the US population. In fact, 4.5 million homes are at high or extreme risk, with California, Montana, Idaho and Colorado being the most vulnerable.
Wildfires can actually occur across 38 states nationwide, adds insurance broker Mila Araujo. With increased population density and housing development near forests and wildland, it’s a risk factor that extends far beyond the West Coast.
Insuring Your Customers Against Wildfires
When it comes to adequately covering your customers, Araujo points out that standard residential insurance covers damage from fire and smoke. Therefore, most residential policies will cover wildfire related damage.
Most homeowners, condo and renters insurance will also cover additional living expenses while repairs are made. There are even some policies designed for high-value homes that may offer unlimited additional living expense coverage.
But there’s a caveat. Not all policies cover properties in high-risk areas.
In terms of vehicles, most comprehensive car insurance policies will cover damage due to wildfire. However, if it’s only minimum car insurance or strictly liability, a vehicle won’t be covered. Also, some policies restrict coverage in wildfire-prone areas, advises the team at 4AutoInsuranceQuote, and customers are restricted from buying coverage just days prior to a fire.
As an independent agent, it’s vital that you understand the level of protection a particular policy offers. If your customer’s current coverage is inadequate, you’ll want to discuss their options to fill in the gaps. For example, you might suggest comprehensive car insurance for customers looking to protect their vehicles from wildfire damage. And if you’re in a high-risk state like California, you’ll need to be especially diligent to ensure customers are protected under that policy.
Although wildfires have received the majority of news coverage lately, flooding is another serious issue. In fact, flooding is the most common natural disaster in the US, with the average flood claim being $42,000, according to reinsurance broker Paul Dzielinski. And on the global level, flooding disasters have impacted 2.3 billion people over the past two decades, writes investigative journalist Martin Williams.
The problem is that virtually any location is susceptible to flooding. It doesn’t just have to be coastal communities or areas near large bodies of water. Dzielinski says that technically everyone lives in a flood zone — something the Federal Emergency Management Agency confirms. It’s just a question of risk level.
And with environmental writer Arthur Neslen reporting that instances of flooding and heavy rain have doubled worldwide over the last 10 years, agents can expect this to be an ongoing problem.
Insuring Your Customers Against Flooding
While most homeowners and renters insurance covers water damage to some extent, they don’t cover flooding, explains Bryan Ochalla at QuoteWizard. Unfortunately, this isn’t something everyone is aware of and can get people into trouble. In fact, 80 percent of people affected by flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 didn’t have flood insurance, writes Washington Post economics correspondent Heather Long. For them, the financial fallout can be devastating.
Therefore, it’s vital independent agents educate customers on the limitations of residential insurance and suggest flood insurance as an option. It’s especially important for those operating in high-risk areas.
Flood insurance covers things that traditional homeowners and renters insurance won’t, with FEMA listing examples such as electrical and plumbing systems, furnaces and water heaters, foundation walls and appliances. In many cases, having flood insurance can mean the difference between recouping a loss fairly easily and major economic hardship.
Vehicles covered by a comprehensive policy usually are protected against water and flood damage, confirms the team at The Zebra, an insurance search engine.
With 1.2 million Americans living in coastal areas, the US is highly susceptible to hurricane damage, says economics writer, Kimberly Amadeo. The 2017 hurricane season stands out as particularly devastating with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma ripping through Texas and Florida.
The related costs are astronomical. According to the Insurance Information Institute, tropical cyclones accounted for over $49 billion of estimated insured losses in 2017 — the highest of any natural disaster.
Unfortunately, scientific studies suggest that hurricanes will be a growing problem.
“While climate change didn’t cause Harvey, scientists say a warmer planet likely made the storm worse,” says environmental sustainability reporter, Leanna Garfield. “Plus, higher sea levels — due to climate change and human disruptions (like oil drilling) have changed the ocean and land levels — encouraged destructive flooding as the stormwater rose.”
Insuring Your Customers Against Hurricanes
Hurricanes bring about two main problems, say financial writer Juan Castillo: wind and water. That means customers will need coverage against windstorms and flooding to stay protected.
Standard homeowners insurance will typically cover damage from wind, including hurricanes. However, people living in high-risk coastal areas like Florida may need to purchase separate windstorm insurance. And as we previously mentioned, homeowners insurance doesn’t cover flooding. Indeed, Castillo recommends buying flood insurance to protect a property against hurricanes.
Again, most vehicles should be good with comprehensive coverage, says insurance writer Michelle Megna. Remember, the insurance must be in effect before a storm warning or watch issued by the National Hurricane Center goes into effect.
And then there are tornadoes, with some 1,000 reported annually nationwide. The Insurance Information Institute confirms that tornadoes are more common in the US than any other country in the world. They accounted for nearly 40 percent of insured catastrophe losses between 1997 and 2016.
Unlike some other types of natural disaster that are primarily seasonal (e.g., hurricane season from early June through late November), tornadoes can touch down at any time of year. Especially vulnerable states are Oklahoma, Missouri and Nebraska, so independent agents with customers in those areas should advise homeowners accordingly.
Insuring Your Customers Against Tornadoes
Unlike some other types of natural disasters, most homeowners policies cover tornadoes. This means customers won’t need a separate policy, explains the team at Trusted Choice.
However, customers should review their coverage to ensure that it’s adequate in the event that their property does incur significant tornado damage. It’s also smart for people who are renting to purchase renters insurance to cover their property if valuable possessions are destroyed.
When it comes to car insurance, having comprehensive coverage will protect most vehicles from the high wind damage sustained from a tornado.
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