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Insurance Industry Aims to Reduce Claims

posted on September 27, 2013

Midday on Friday, the Senate passed a continuing resolution to keep the federal government open through November 15. Voting was along party lines. The measure will be sent to the House for consideration but the question remains on whether debate will continue until the 11th hour Monday night. President Obama reiterated that the bill will NOT get his signature if the final measure lacks funding for the Affordable Care Act.

Somewhere in the distance behind the giant political roadblock in Washington lays the Farm Bill. And with little or no time left before the continuing resolution expires another extension of the 2008 farm law is all but certain.

The languishing Farm Bill authorizes federal spending on everything from nutrition to disaster payments.  But while attempts to find a compromise continue, work by other agencies goes on. With residents of the West facing the tough job of clean-up from one of worst forest fire seasons in history, federal officials are attempting to provide a touchstone for calculating the danger.

Insurance Industry Aims to Reduce Claims

Federal researchers are working on a system to measure and predict the destructiveness of wildfires… similar to ones already in place for hurricanes and tornadoes.

The National Institute for Standards and Technology hopes the Wildland Urban Interface Hazard Scale will tell residents the intensity of a likely wildfire burning in their neighborhood. The scale will help predict the potential destructive power of a wildfire given the combination of fuel and location.

The proposed scale of E1 to E4 creates regions based on location anywhere from grasslands to remote mountain canyons. The scale is aimed at beefing up building codes and buffer zones in high-risk areas.

Insurance companies are also paying attention to the research as payouts after western wildfires have grown exponentially. In the 1970s, wildfires destroyed about 400 homes nationwide. Since 2000, that number has topped 3,000 structures annually. In Colorado alone, wildfires accounted for more than $858 million in insurance claims in 2012 and 2013, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.

Researchers are looking at building materials, landscaping, weather patterns plus the behavior of wind-driven embers.

Nelson Bryner, Research Engineer, Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety: "So if you understand the exposure, you can then design to that exposure.”

Historically, big insurance claims involve flooding, but fires are gaining ground.

The government also is remapping flood zones and trying to restore solvency to the National Flood Insurance program. The change will likely raise rates for nearly everyone.

Colin Elston, Treasure Island, FL Homeowner: "We paid fourteen hundred and eighty-two dollars for our flood premium this year. The best estimate we have right now, is twelve to sixteen thousand."

Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Act last year to mandate rates more closely match true risk.

Lee Gorodetsky, insurance agent: "Everyone's going to pay more for flood insurance. It's just a question of how much. And we've seen so many floods now: Colorado, last year, hurricane Sandy, before that, other parts of the country. And it's obvious the FEMA program is bankrupt."

FEMA will be paying to helps thousands displaced by the latest round of flooding in Colorado.

This week, Vice President Joe Biden toured a portion of the $1 billion in damage in the Centennial State.

Flood damage to Colorado’s oil industry has state regulators monitoring spills and damage to equipment in oilfields north of Denver. At least 37,000 gallons has spilled in a dozen incidents, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

And construction crews are trying to get emergency repairs done to flood-damaged highways and bridges where the price tag is already close to $430 million. Crews are attempting to complete their work before the fast-approaching winter weather season hits.

Tags: agriculture Biggert-Waters Act building codes flood industry insurance news research savings weather wildfire Wildland Urband Interface Hazard Scale