It’s been months since hurricanes Maria, Irma, and Harvey slammed into the US, wildfires ripped through California, and a major earthquake devastated Mexico.
That means it’s time to prepare cities for the next major catastrophe.
It’s not just residents who should be preparing emergency plans – the public sector needs to ensure its infrastructure is storm-proof, and do it now before the lessons of the past year are forgotten.
“You remember that the roof is leaking when it’s raining, but when you’ve had a year of sunshine, you forget that you have to get up there and fix it,” said Thom Rickert, vice president and emerging risks specialist of Trident Public Risk Solutions. “It’s so hard to get people to learn the lessons.”
The infrastructure damage from the past year was massive, explained Rickert. Electrical grids in Puerto Rico, natural gas lines in Texas, and streets shredded by mudslides in the Golden state are just a few of the examples of damage that resulted in major losses for the public sector. Not to mention comparatively smaller repairs needed for city halls that had windows blown out or police vehicles that were flipped over by powerful windstorms.
Cities have a lot to think about when it comes to storm preparation since they have to remain liveable even as catastrophes grow in numbers.
“It’s considering how they’ve strengthened and made their systems more resilient, how the water lines are placed, whether they have a centralized distribution grid for electricity or whether it’s more dispersed or decentralized,” listed Rickert. “It’s looking at the zoning. Should we be building more houses here? Should we take things that were destroyed and create more open space, should we consider in our future planning digging up all that asphalt parking lot and creating a permeable surface to avoid future flooding?”
Insurers come into the fold to assess the valuations of public sector assets and advise cities on updating those valuations as renovations or other changes are made to the infrastructure. If a building was insured for $500,000, but an extra wing has been added or a more complex water system was installed, that building needs to be insured for the new valuation – before a storm hits.
“It’s understanding or making sure that the actual cost of the infrastructure or the buildings are expressed in the insurance policy,” said Rickert. “That’s what insurance companies are there to do, is provide that advice. Hey, it’s time to update your values. It is time to look at how you can use new technology to prevent future damage.”
While the repercussions of the catastrophe-ridden year were significant, the VP said that learning the lessons from natural disasters and making significant changes to infrastructure likely won’t happen tomorrow.
“Until the negative financial impact outweighs what is perceived as the positive financial impact, there won’t be change.”