Online Disaster Management Resources

Article excerpt

The Internet provides a bottomless reservoir of information and resources for preventing or responding to natural, technological and manmade disasters. In fact, a recent Web search of the word "disaster" yielded more than 59,000 sources, including scientific, engineering, business, medical, commercial and government entities that provide information on disaster assessment, mitigation and response. In this column, we'll identify some of the resources that risk managers can use.

The use of the Internet by the insurance and risk management community for disaster management has grown substantially over the past year. For example, during Hurricane Bertha, Steve Marlin, head of catastrophe operations for United Service Auto Association, used it to access tropical weather sites, view satellite images and Doppler radar information and follow the landfall predictions. Mr. Marlin was able to integrate that information with hurricane tracking software, catastrophe models and the company's policyholder database. Based on this analysis, he deployed the company's catastrophe response team and felt comfortable that the company was better prepared to respond to its customers' needs.

Tom Upman, vice president, property division, corporate claims at CNA, also says he used the Internet extensively during Hurricane Bertha. He accessed the University of Michigan's Weathernet site, followed the hurricane strike probabilities and kept senior management informed about the storm's status. Mr. Upman, who has used the Internet for about a year, says it also saved a significant amount of time in preparing for the company's response to commercial and personal customers.

Managing Nature's Fury

Cyclone, a new search engine launched by General Reinsurance that provides weather information for the insurance industry, can be reached at http://www.genre.com/Cyclone/ nf_search.html. The site offers information on geography, finances, academia, terrorism, risk management, disaster, law, earthquakes and hurricanes.

Perhaps the most noted disaster-related site is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency at http://www.fema.gov. The site is so popular that during Hurricane Bertha, it received more than two million hits. Unfortunately, the heavy traffic resulted in the inability of many users to reach the site, so FEMA is upgrading its system to accommodate the demand. …