Technology plus insurance aid disaster recovery
May 31, 2016
Businesses moving and relocating away from the Truckee River after the 1997 flood, smoke from fires causing IRONMAN Lake Tahoe to be canceled in 2014 and the need for the area to be able to recover after an earthquake all question the economic resiliency of northern Nevada in the event of a disaster like a flood, fire or earthquake.
Graham Kent of Nevada Seismological Laboratory talked about the importance of economic resiliency after an earthquake during a forum in April. Part of the take home message from that forum was the importance of earthquake insurance. The Department of Business and Industry Nevada Division of Insurance indicates that after Alaska and California, Nevada ranks third for major (magnitude 5.0 or greater) earthquakes. As was highlighted at the earthquake resiliency forum, the Nevada Consumer's Guide to Earthquake Insurance explains that most commercial and homeowner policies do not cover damages from an earthquake. However, policies can be written to add the coverage.
Kent went on to explain the idea behind having this extra insurance is not only to rebuild a persons' home but also to provide jobs to the community after a disastrous event. In a phone interview, he explained the importance of an economic driver after a disaster.
"One of the easiest ways to provide that early stimulus is to essentially start rebuilding the structures that need to be rebuilt with earthquake insurance," he said.
Some major insurance companies stop writing homeowners policies for households that are considered high risk of fire. This results in people turning to smaller companies that may charge twice the price of a regular policy. Outlining the idea that the King fire is still being paid for could mean insurance companies are raising rates or not writing new policies, which would essentially force people to turn to more expensive and different policies that they may not have planned for financially.
In the event of a disaster, like a fire, flood or earthquake, there are benefits to holding insurance instead of relying on disaster assistance. Kent made the point of initial economic stimulation being hugely important to an area recovering, but there are other benefits too. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) outlines, on their website, the benefits of flood insurance versus disaster assistance, specifically. Some aspects they highlight as pros of having flood insurance are: a person being in control and insurance claims being filed without a disaster being declared by the president, flood insurance plans being continuous and not non-renewed or canceled for repeat loss and there being no payback requirement. FEMA outlined disaster assistance requiring a presidential declaration, the most typical form of disaster assistance being a loan that must be repaid with interest and that disaster assistance may not being awarded in all flooding incidents.
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So, while the knowledge exists about the importance of a person carrying insurance for these disasters, a large amount of people do not have insurance for certain types of disasters. This raises the question of what else can be done prior to a disaster occurring to help economic resiliency if and when one occurs.
Kent explained real time axis cameras that, as funding is raised, are being installed throughout northern Nevada and Tahoe to help provide warning of disasters.
"If we have a major fire, like the King Fire, that will be an incredible hit to the economy," he said.
The cameras are a series of high definition cameras that allow fire personnel to look for fires early through on demand time lapse. Kent also mentioned, they are working on machine vision that will allow the computers connected to the cameras to look for smoke as well as provide the camera view and time lapse option on a website the public can access.
"When they do get a smoke call, they don't have to wait for a spotter plane or someone to drive to a mountain peak, you just pirouette the camera right away and scale your resources right away," Kent explained.
These cameras do not only lend to fire assistance, however.
"Also during extreme weather, it is really hard when we have an atmospheric river storm, the coverage of equipment and sensors are so poor we can't tell if the snow the level is 8,000 feet or 5,500," he added.
Kent explained how the smoke alone from a fire, if it didn't impact the area directly, or an inaccurate flood warning, or lack of, could drastically impact the economy in northern Nevada.
The goal of the AlertTAHOE cameras, besides funding to expand the one-of-a-kind system, is for the technology to work alongside insurance. Ten years ago, this technology didn't exist.
"The technology has finally matured and we can kind of turn firefighting into more special forces. Put out intelligence, camera network and have rapid response teams to hit it," Kent said.
The combined ability to invest in the technology for preventive measures, as well as carry insurance for initial economic recovery when a disaster happens, sounds like the best possibility for being economically resilient to a disaster like a fire, flood or earthquake.