PREPARING FOR NATURAL DISASTERS: After Years of Relatively Mild Activity, Natural Disasters Hit Hard in 2017, as a Devastating Series of Hurricanes, Severe Storms, Wildfires, Earthquakes and Droughts Caused $353 Billion in Economic Losses and $134 Billion in Insured Losses Worldwide

By Charlesworth, Aaron; Mazur, Stacy et al. | Risk Management, May 2018 | Go to article overview

PREPARING FOR NATURAL DISASTERS: After Years of Relatively Mild Activity, Natural Disasters Hit Hard in 2017, as a Devastating Series of Hurricanes, Severe Storms, Wildfires, Earthquakes and Droughts Caused $353 Billion in Economic Losses and $134 Billion in Insured Losses Worldwide


Charlesworth, Aaron, Mazur, Stacy, Marinelli, Vivian, Risk Management


Both totals were the second-highest on record, according to Aon Benfield, and the highest on record in terms of weather-related disasters alone. While Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were responsible for more than 60% of economic and insured losses, those were only the most notable disasters in a long list--in all, there were 330 natural catastrophe events in 2017, 31 of which caused more than a billion dollars in damage. The United States alone experienced 16 billion-dollar disasters, tying the single-year record set in 2011. Total economic losses worldwide were 93% above the 2000 to 2016 average of $183 billion (on an inflation-adjusted basis) and 163% above the 2000 to 2016 average of $51 billion.

Whether a disasteryear like 2017 proves to bean anomaly or the start of a new normal remains to be seen, but as the climate continues to change, the risk of weather-related disasters only continues to increase. In fact, some early forecasts are already predicting another above-average Atlantic hurricane season for 2018. While most organizations already have at least some form of disaster preparedness or business continuity plan in place and have secured the necessary insurance coverage to mitigate the impact of a catastrophe, there are still many issues that can be overlooked. In the following section, experts discuss three such topics--emergency communication planning, disaster restoration and first-responder resilience training to help risk professionals to further refine their preparedness efforts as they strive to protect their organizations.

WEATHERING THE STORM: Developing an Effective Disaster Preparedness and Communication Plan.

Although weather is often unpredictable and always uncontrollable, businesses can go a long way toward mitigating damage with careful preparation. According to a 2018 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife, however, more than one-third of small businesses have no emergency plans in place for natural disasters or severe weather, and while larger businesses often have business continuity and disaster recovery plans, many of them do not account specifically for weather-related events.

To ensure your organization is prepared, planning for a natural disaster should include the following steps:

1 Create internal emergency-response teams and identify the roles of everyone on the team. Specifically highlighting what their roles are during weather-related emergencies will ensure each team member knows what to focus on as the event unfolds. Team members with the right skills and knowledge can then address their areas of expertise, knowing that other issues are covered by people with the appropriate skillset.

2 Train key employees on technology to mobilize crisis-response teams, alert staff and suppliers, and account for personnel safety. This preparation enables team members to move quickly when making decisions and share important information with all audiences, no matter how narrow or broad, rather than trying to learn and understand new tools in the midst of managing an event.

3 Implement human resources policies for employee notification, remote work and accessibility for people with disabilities for both large and small events. In most cases, basic policies and procedures provide all of the necessary information to keep individuals safe and secure; however, some events are more complex and require giving employees specific instructions in advance.

4 Create and distribute shelter-in-place, evacuation and medical emergency procedures informing employees of exactly how to respond or where to go. In many types of severe weather events, there is very little time to make decisions, so having predefined meet-up locations and procedures enables people to respond quickly and confidently.

5 Keep a current list of contact information for all employees, response-team personnel, utility companies, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials, the local Red Cross chapter and local first-responder organizations, ensuring the right people are acting on the information that they have the skills and authority to manage. …

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PREPARING FOR NATURAL DISASTERS: After Years of Relatively Mild Activity, Natural Disasters Hit Hard in 2017, as a Devastating Series of Hurricanes, Severe Storms, Wildfires, Earthquakes and Droughts Caused $353 Billion in Economic Losses and $134 Billion in Insured Losses Worldwide
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