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Weathering change: insurers must realize that the 2005 mega-storms were not an anomaly, but a harbinger of things to come.

As we struggle to recover from the most active and destructive hurricane season on record, insurers and society must prepare for more of the same--and worse.

Insured property losses from hurricanes rose to a record $22.9 billion in 2004 and more than doubled to $50.3 billion in 2005. The $38.1 billion in insured losses from Hurricane Katrina alone already are more than twice the $15.5 billion in losses caused by Hurricane Andrew, the costliest U.S. hurricane on record, until last August. Unfortunately, all signs indicate recent experience was not merely bad luck.

Yes, we experienced a record 27 named Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes in 2005, including 14 hurricanes, five of which hit the U.S. mainland. But even if the weather returned to "normal," we'd be bit by more hurricanes than we're used to.

Meteorological records show the United States was struck by 72 hurricanes from 1951 to 2000, an average of 14 hurricanes per decade. But during the preceding century, the United States was bit by 192 hurricanes: an average of 19 per decade.

Assuming hurricane activity returned to the low levels we experienced for half a century, catastrophe losses would rise anyway because of population growth, economic development and inflation.

If 1992's Hurricane Andrew were to hit the same Florida locations today, the losses would be almost two times greater. If 1985's Hurricane Gloria were to occur again, the losses would be almost six times greater.

The population of states exposed to hurricanes rose 39% from 1970 to 2000 and will increase another 32% by 2030, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The distribution of insured property, hurricane strikes and population growth by state all point to further increases in catastrophe losses.

As of 2004, the insured value of coastal property in hurricane-exposed states totaled $7.2 trillion. More than a quarter of it was located in Florida, with another 10% in Texas. Of the 278 hurricanes that hit the U.S. mainland from 1851 to today, 114 struck Florida and 60 struck Texas. No other states were bit more often.

Aside from being among the states with the greatest amount of coastal property and the most hurricane-prone, Florida and Texas are the two hurricane-exposed states that also are expected to grow the fastest. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the population of Florida will increase by 79% from 2000-2030, and the population of Texas will grow by 59%.

In short, Hugo, Andrew and Katrina foreshadow the future. Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi share tragic memories of Katrina. They also lack rigorous building codes such as those in southern Florida. But research by AIR Worldwide shows hurricane damage to residential structures could be reduced by more than 40% if their construction included mitigation features such as those mandated by the Dade County South Florida Building Code.

The insurance industry must encourage strict enforcement of disaster-resistant building codes. Recognizing that code enforcement is as critical as having the right building code, Florida mandates discounts and surcharges on property coverage based on ISO's Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule. That program evaluates building codes and code enforcement, jurisdiction by jurisdiction.

Mitigating future losses shouldn't be a priority just in Gulf Coast states. If a storm like the 1938 Great New England Hurricane, which devastated Long Island, were to strike New York again today, total economic losses could exceed $100 billion. Meanwhile, states along the West Coast and the New Madrid Fault in Missouri face the prospect of devastating earthquakes.

As insurance professionals, we must do more to promote loss mitigation through the strict enforcement of strong building codes. With Katrina, Rita and Wilma still fresh in the public's mind and high on lawmakers' agendas, we must act now--not just for our own sake, but for the sake of all who will one day face Mother Nature's wrath yet again.

Frank J. Coyne, a Best's Review columnist, is chairman, president and chief executive officer of ISO. He can be reached at insight@bestreview.com.
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Title Annotation:property/casualty
Comment:Weathering change: insurers must realize that the 2005 mega-storms were not an anomaly, but a harbinger of things to come.(property/casualty)
Author:Coyne, Frank J.
Publication:Best's Review
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2006
Words:668
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