August 26, 2011

The insurance industry, and those of us attached to it, are tracking Hurricane Irene with special interest and with special capabilities. A new map created by GIS software provider ESRI (Redlands, Calif.) combines extremely detailed street and topographical mapping with storm tracking features and, perhaps most interestingly, with volunteered insight provided by individuals using popular social media platforms, such as Twitter and YouTube. ESRI's Simon Thompson comments on this novel combination of information sources and applications:

We live now in a time of unprecedented information availability, awareness and insight which is driving new collaborations and outreach. This app is a public example of the type Of private interaction which is going on to reduce impacts, preserve lives and property and mitigate losses through better awareness, customer support, communication and outreach.

This combination of capability is especially relevant for the first major hurricane to run up the populous, less hurricane-prone Mid-Atlantic and New England coast. We track all major Atlantic Hurricane Season events avidly, but this one is special: first, Irene is on track to hit heavily populated areas that have a tremendous amount of insured property but relatively little experience in preparing for weather events of great magnitude; second, the insurance industry is itself concentrated in the region affected — meaning not only the potential for power outages, floods and other potential business continuity issues, but also threats to the comfort and well-being of colleagues and their families. While personally stationed in the Pacific Northwest, the rest of my I&T colleagues are based in New York City and live in the danger zone, as do many friends and relatives.

ESRI's Simon Thompson further elaborates on the uses of the map, along with some of the issues raised by Irene, and how insurers are using GIS and other technologies to react to them.

This public facing application contains the same valuable information, visualization and analysis that insurers are using in-house to analyze book of business, values at risk and potential impacts. Across Europe and the US the industry is using the latest information (provided by this app), historic footprints (time stamped) and the future tracks to understand and manage their liabilities and better service clients who are in the path of the storm or have already been affected.

We have insurers who are looking at the building codes and standards on the East Coast and assessing how this storm may compound impacts of the earthquake and today's aftershocks. High winds, torrential rain, flooding and lightning have the potential to cause further damage to older building from North Carolina to New York City. Advising clients on remedial measures and steps to protect their buildings will mitigate future losses.

Insurers can also use the social media feeds to easily search, find and view information relevant to preparedness and preparation. Try this for yourself, on the social tab, click the gear and try a search on twitter for #preparation Insurers are also using the same data via ArcGIS Online to post guidance to their clients as notes and red lines. This is the same type of use that the first responders are involved in to plan their response and stage resources. More and more these different groups are engaged in partnership and information sharing, combining meteorological models for rainfall, flooding, storm search with hydrological impacts (over-topping, coastal inundation, etc.) and their areas of state, federal and local response.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek ...