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Go, go, go ... to Sacramento: risk executives looking to minimize their property and casualty exposures might want to consider setting up shop in the California capital--so long as they don't mind the risk of paying through the nose for workers' compensation premiums.

Several victims of last summer's Hurricane Charley said they had moved from Miami to Florida's west coast to get away from hurricanes. They had suffered through the effects of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the other side of the peninsula looked to be a safer bet. After all, a major hurricane had not made landfall in the Fort Myers area for more than 40 years--not since Hurricane Donna in 1960. It was a miscalculation that had tragic consequences for some. It was also a reminder that short-term experience may not reflect the actual long-term risk of catastrophes.

Catastrophe modelers help insurance companies and corporate risk managers understand and manage their exposure to catastrophe risk. Considered something of an esoteric art two decades ago, catastrophe models have since become an essential tool for most insurers and virtually all reinsurers. This is primarily the result of the unprecedented and unexpected losses sustained from actual catastrophic events, most notably Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the Northridge earthquake in 1994. Since then, economic losses from natural disasters have continued to escalate as more properties are built in catastrophe-prone areas. From 1990 to 1999, total insured losses from natural disasters in the United States exceeded 887 billion, according to data from ISO's Property Claim Services.

It's not only hurricanes and earthquakes that can lead to large losses. In May of 2002, an 11-day severe thunderstorm outbreak set a record 83.2 billion in insurance losses across 18 states. In fact, average annual aggregate losses nationwide have actually been higher over the past decade for severe thunderstorms than for hurricanes and earthquakes, since there are many more of them each year and they cover a broader swath of the United States than either hurricanes or earthquakes. Tellingly, states at risk from severe thunderstorms account for four of the top 10 states in terms of natural catastrophe loss potential. At the top of the list, severe thunderstorm risk in Texas follows only California earthquake and Florida hurricane risk for natural catastrophe loss potential.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the nation awoke to the reality that terrorism was just as capable of striking at home as abroad. Suddenly, insurers and corporate risk managers faced new risks that changed modeling scenarios. Managing risk from terrorism has since become an unfortunate, but essential component in today's business decision making. Modelers stepped up to the plate and provided the necessary risk assessment tools.

Initially developed for use by the insurance industry, risk managers from different sectors have begun to adopt models to manage catastrophe risk. As the profile of risk managers rises within corporations, these managers will likely be held more accountable for their decisions than they were in the past.

Risk executives need to justify their insurance expenses and their chosen deductibles. They need to explain losses incurred, and the implications for the corporate balance sheet. Risk management departments who base their decisions on credible catastrophe models can be confident that the science, engineering and statistical foundations of their models are reliable.


To quantify the risk from natural catastrophes, computer models are used to simulate thousands of years of potential hurricanes, tornadoes, hailstorms and earthquakes. Next, detailed scientific and geophysical data about each affected site is used to model the local effects of a simulated event.

For example, windstorm models use high-resolution digital land use/land cover data to calculate surface frictional effects, which affect ground-level wind speeds. Earthquake models employ detailed soil data that provide information required to calculate the local intensity from a given seismic event.

Once the intensity at each site is determined, whether in terms of wind speed, ground motion or pressure waves from a bomb blast, this information is fed into mathematical functions called damageability relationships, which compute the impact on buildings and their contents. Damageability relationships incorporate the results of engineering research, experimental tests and structural calculations. They also reflect the relative effectiveness and enforcement of local building codes. Engineers refine and validate these functions through the use of post-disaster field survey data and through careful analysis of loss data from actual events.

By mathematically combining intensity parameters with information on property values, construction types and even individual building characteristics, models can reliably determine the potential for losses before they occur so that companies can adequately prepare for their financial impact.

Modeling potential losses from future terrorist activity is a more recent endeavor and presents greater challenges. Natural catastrophe models rely on data from past events collected from sources such as the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center (SPC).

Historical data on terrorist activity is fortunately quite scarce, and what data do exist may not be representative of the current threat. Furthermore, unlike earthquakes and other natural disasters, whose occurrence has a physical basis that can be understood by the scientists who study them, terrorist attacks are a function of the malicious intent of groups of individuals. For estimating the frequency, severity and location of future terrorist attacks, catastrophe modelers therefore rely on input from experts on terrorism threat assessment who are familiar with the motivation and preferred tactics of terrorists.


Through the identification, assessment, and quantification of catastrophe risk, catastrophe models have traditionally helped identify regions of high risk. Conversely, models can also be used to identify areas of low risk. Insurers can use this information for purposes of portfolio optimization and reducing risk accumulations, while individual risk managers will find it valuable for determining where to locate new facilities, for example.

So, which are the safest metropolitan areas in the United States? Where can you live and work, or locate your business, with the lowest overall catastrophe risk?

The answer is not as obvious as one might expect. It is not enough to know, for example, the likelihood that an earthquake will occur in any particular area. That's because an assessment of catastrophe risk must address not only the hazard, but also the vulnerability of the exposed structures and their value. For example, California has a very high level of seismic activity. However, the California building code is very strict and thus, for a given magnitude earthquake, California buildings will generally perform better than those in the central US, where codes are less strict and the building stock is generally older.

AIR was asked by Risk & Insurance to identity the safest metropolitan areas in the country.

To do so, estimates of potential losses were calculated using AIR's hurricane, earthquake, severe thunderstorm and terrorism models for each of the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) included in the U.S. Census Bureau's 2002 definition. The estimates of potential losses for each peril were combined to determine the overall average potential for insured losses for each metropolitan area. The 10 safest metropolitan areas with a population over one million are shown in the table that appears below.

If you are looking for that safe haven in which to locate your business, or if you have the luxury to relocate, this list may provide you with some options you haven't considered. If you don't have that luxury, we encourage you to join the growing ranks of risk managers who are using catastrophe models to determine and manage their catastrophe risk.

10 Safest Cities *

1 Sacramento, Calif.

2 Rochester, N.Y.

3 Phoenix, Ariz.

4 Buffalo, N.Y.

5 Hartford, Conn.

6 Columbus, Ohio

7 Greenville, S.C.

8 Grand Rapids, Mich.

9 Cincinnati, Ohio

* Metropolitan Statistical Areas with a population of 1 million of more, ranked based on potential insured losses from hurricanes , earthquakes, severe thunderstorms and terrorism.

1. Sacramento, California

Sacramento, one of the state capitals on our list, lies about 85 miles northeast of San Francisco in an area that is home to more than 1.7 million people. Situated at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, Sacramento boasts a deepwater port linked by a 47-mile ship channel leading to San Francisco Bay. The city, which became a commercial center during the California gold rush, was incorporated in 1850 and later served as the western end of the Pony Express. Today, it is the shipping, rail, processing and marketing center of the Sacramento Valley, where vegetables, fruit, wheat, rice, dairy products, cattle, and turkeys are raised.

Sacramento is located in the northern section of California's Central Valley, which is bounded by the Cascade range to the north, the Sierra Nevada to the east, the Tehachapi Mountains to the south and the Coast Range and San Francisco Bay to the west. The northern part of valley, above the Mokelumne River, is called the Sacramento Valley.

Even though it is located less than 100 miles from the high earthquake risk area of San Francisco, the Central Valley is considered generally seismically stable. While the closest active faults are only 30 miles from the city, the underlying geology of California leads to the quick attenuation, or decay, of seismic waves. The tectonic stresses along the plate boundary region of the western United States cause significant fracturing of the underlying rock. This fracturing results in a relatively rapid scattering of seismic energy, which means that damaging ground motion simply doesn't extend very far from the initial fault rupture.

The nearest historical earthquake, a magnitude 6.4 event, occurred on a segment of the Great Valley faults in 1892. Centered just 30 miles from Sacramento, it caused some, but not major, damage in the capital, consisting primarily of cracked chimneys. The nearest faults capable of producing major events--magnitude 7 and above--include the San Andreas and Hayward Faults, but these pose a much smaller threat due to the rapid attenuation in the area. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake, for example, at magnitude 7.9, caused no major damage in Sacramento.

Despite the fact that it is the seat of state government, Sacramento is at low risk from terrorist attacks in comparison to other potential target areas in California. In addition, many of California's agencies began working together to coordinate antiterrorism efforts well before the Sept. 11 attacks. In 1997 the Governor's Office established the California State Strategic Committee on Terrorism (SSCOT) to address emerging terrorism issues. SSCOT is an integral part of the California State Terrorism Response Plan and functions in coordination with the newly established California Anti-Terrorism Information Center.

2. Rochester, New York

The City of Rochester is located on the southern shores of Lake Ontario about 250 miles northwest of New York City. Rochester is the state's third largest city, with a population of more than 200,000 and more than 1 million in the metropolitan area.

Originally known as the Flour City because of its flour-milling heritage, Rochester became known as the Flower City in 1859 because of its large and growing nursery and seed industry. In 1840, Rochester's Mt. Hope Gardens and Nurseries was one of the largest nurseries in the world. The city also served as an important stop on both the Erie Canal and the Underground Railroad. Today, Rochester is home to major international companies such as Eastman Kodak, Bausch & Lomb and Western Union.

Severe thunderstorms--which include tornadoes, hailstorms, and straight-line windstorms--account for more than half of all expected catastrophe losses in Rochester. Over the Labor Day weekend of 1998, Rochester experienced a destructive derecho, one variation of a straight-line windstorm. Derechos are squall lines accompanied by winds as high as 100 mph. The 1998 Labor Day derecho brought gusts of near 80 mph across much of northern New York and neighboring states. Insured losses from the event were $60 million in New York State alone. Nevertheless, while severe thunderstorms account for a majority of the expected loss in Rochester each year, potential losses are still low in comparison to many other U.S. cities at risk from this peril.

The potential for hurricane losses is relatively low because Rochester is 250 miles from the Atlantic coast. Hurricanes rarely reach Rochester and those few that do have already weakened to a tropical storm or depression. The most damaging storm to hit Rochester was Hazel in 1954, bringing sustained winds of up to 70 mph.

Rochester's low earthquake risk comes from its sizable distance from any significant active faults. Seismically, the Northeast is a relatively stable region in general. Since 1638, only two earthquakes greater than magnitude 6.0 have occurred in the northeastern United States. In that same period, only one earthquake with a magnitude greater than 5.0 has occurred within 100 miles of Rochester--a 1929 earthquake with a magnitude of 5.2 some 45 miles from the city. Damage was limited to toppled chimneys and damage to some older brick buildings.

Rochester ranks quite low with respect to terrorism risk. New York State has been extremely active in its efforts relating to terrorism prevention and preparedness, establishing an Office of Public Security within a month of Sept. 11, 2001. The office is charged with coordinating and enhancing antiterrorist efforts in the State of New York, specifically with developing a comprehensive statewide strategy to "detect, protect against, respond to, and prevent cowardly and murderous acts of terrorism."

3. Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix lies on the Salt River near the center of Arizona in the Valley of the Sun. An early civilization constructed a system of irrigation canals for farming in the area. The civilization mysteriously disappeared in the 1400s, and the city derives its name from its rebirth from a lost civilization into a major economic and cultural center.

The largest on our list of the 10 safest cities, Phoenix is the sixth largest city in the United States and it is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Phoenix itself has a population of more than 1.3 million and the metropolitan area is home to about 3.5 million people. It has a $50 billion economy consisting of aerospace, communications, computer, electronics and technology companies.

The largest natural hazard facing Phoenix is severe thunderstorms, though relative to other cities and states, the risk is still low. According to data available from the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, there has been just one recorded tornado in Phoenix, which occurred in 1972. Of the perils associated with severe thunderstorms, Phoenix is at greater risk from hailstorms and wind than it is from tornadoes.

Because of its distance from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, Phoenix is virtually immune to hurricanes. While hurricanes also form in the Pacific off the coast of Mexico, these storms usually travel from east to west, away from the United States. Occasionally, such storms curve back to the northeast--in 2003, Hurricane Marry brought tropical storm force gusts and flooding to parts of Arizona after moving up the Gulf of California--but such events are rare.

Phoenix is also in a seismically stable region. Although not entirely exempt from earthquake activity, the city rarely experiences noteworthy tremors. In the last 100 years, there have been only two earthquakes with epicenters in Arizona with magnitudes greater than 5.0--a magnitude 5.7 earthquake in 1992 and a magnitude 5.3 event in 1993--both of which occurred in the northern part of the state. In 1852, a magnitude 7.0 quake occurred on the California-Arizona border near Yuma, though there is some doubt about both the exact epicenter and magnitude, since it was not recorded using instruments. Still, no deaths or injuries from earthquakes have occurred in Arizona in the last century.

Terrorism ranks as the greatest of the four modeled perils facing the area due to the numerous high-tech companies in and around Phoenix, and the relative low risk of the other three perils. Still, when compared with other major metropolitan areas, such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago or Washington D.C., the relative threat of terrorism is quite low. As part of its mitigation efforts, Arizona has developed a security strategy designed to reduce its vulnerability to terrorist attacks and minimize both damage and recovery time in the event of an attack.

4. Buffalo, New York

A port city situated at the eastern end of Lake Erie, Buffalo is located about 300 miles northwest of New York City. With a population of nearly 300,000 in the city itself and more than 1.1 million in the region, Buffalo ranks as the second largest city in New York State.

Until 1825 when the western terminus of the Erie Canal was completed, Buffalo was a village. The Canal brought about enormous change and the village grew into a city that thrived on milling, steel and other heavy industries.

Not surprisingly, Buffalo's risk from natural and manmade perils is very similar to that of Rochester, just 70 miles to the east. The major difference is the risk from earthquakes: Buffalo's earthquake risk is about four times that of Rochester. While Buffalo has experienced more small earthquakes (earthquakes of magnitude less than 5.0) than Rochester, neither city has been heavily damaged by a major quake. Since 1700, only magnitude greater than 5.0 has occurred within 100 miles of Buffalo.

Hurricanes pose little risk for Buffalo because of the city's distance from the coast. Buffalo has experienced only two hurricanes of any significance: Hurricane Opal in 1995 and Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The more damaging of the two was Hurricane Hazel, which brought gusts of 70-80 mph to the area.

Most of the remainder of Buffalo's potential catastrophe loss comes from severe thunderstorms. The risk profile for this peril is very similar to that of Rochester. For instance, the 1998 Labor Day "Derecho" that brought damaging winds to Rochester, brought damaging hail to Buffalo. Derechos are squall lines accompanied by winds as high as 100 mph. The 1998 Labor Day squall brought gusts of near 80 mph across much of northern New York and neighboring states. Insured losses from the event were $60 million in New York State alone. Even though severe thunderstorms represent a sizable component of Buffalo's overall expected loss, it is still low relative to many other U.S. cities.

Buffalo's terrorism risk is relatively low. As with most active port cities, Buffalo's shores see the trade and transport of large amounts of goods and materials that supply the region's industries. Additionally, Buffalo has hydropower installations, chemical installations and an international border to protect. To keep these assets secure, Buffalo benefits from New York State's Office of Public Security, a division created as a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Office coordinates--on a statewide and local level--antiterrorist efforts in the state.

5. Hartford, Connecticut

Hartford, the second of our state capitals, is located in central Connecticut on the Connecticut River, the largest river in New England. With a population of nearly 1.17 million people, the area is the center of the U.S. insurance industry, with companies such as The Hartford and St. Paul Travelers located there. The city is also home to Colt Firearms and United Technologies, the parent company of Chubb, Pratt & Whitney, Otis and Sikorsky.

The city dates back to a trading post established in 1623 by the Dutch, who were joined in 1636 by a group of English settlers from Massachusetts. Hartford grew into an important trading center for commerce with England, the West Indies and the Far East. Groups of merchants seeking to share risks gave the insurance industry its start here.

The first written description of a hurricane in Connecticut dates from 1675 and records the second of two so-called Great Colonial Hurricanes. When the Great New England Hurricane roared through Connecticut in 1938, a central barometric pressure of 950 millibars was recorded in Hartford, corresponding to a Category 3 storm on the Saffir Simpson Scale. The 1938 storm caused extensive wind damage across Connecticut, including Hartford, toppled steeples in Worcester, Mass. and downed trees as far north as Canada.

While the Great New England Hurricane was undoubtedly a severe event for New England, such storms are infrequent, and the potential hurricane risk for Hartford is relatively low.

On the other hand, conditions in central Connecticut are favorable for thunderstorm formation. Although the Hartford area experiences all three severe thunderstorm sub-perils, straight-line winds tend to contribute more to losses than either hail or tornadoes. Compared to "Tornado Alley" in the central United States, the frequency and severity of powerful thunderstorms are considerably lower in the Hartford area.

Like other parts of the Northeast, earthquake risk in Hartford is minimal. Earthquakes do occur in Connecticut, but the few small earthquakes that occur each year are so small they generally cannot even be felt. Tremors causing little or no damage were recorded in Hartford in 1837, 1840 and 1925. Earthquakes occurring in other parts of the northeastern United States and Eastern Canada, such as the magnitude 5.8 Massena, N.Y., earthquake of 1944, have been felt in Hartford, but have not caused significant damage.

Hartford is at low risk from terrorism. The Connecticut Office of Emergency Management and the Connecticut Department of Public Health are working with the U.S. Government and the Governor's Office on developing plans to manage emergencies, including terrorist threats, at both the local and statewide level.

6. Columbus, Ohio

Located in the heart of the Buckeye State, Ohio's capital region is home to more than 1.6 million people. Financial services, retail and manufacturing form the basis of the area's economy and support its growing population, which increased by 12.4 percent from 1990 to 2000.

Founded in 1812, Columbus became the state capital four years later. Its growth was spurred by a connection to the nearby Ohio and Erie Canal and construction of the National Road in the 1830s, followed by railroads in the 1850s. While other areas of Ohio have suffered from the decline of industry in recent decades, Columbus has prospered with a more diversified economy that includes the state government and Ohio State University among the biggest employers.

Severe thunderstorms dominate natural catastrophe risk in Columbus. Although well east of "Tornado Alley," Ohio averages 16 tornadoes per year. Columbus narrowly escaped the onslaught of the April 1974 tornado outbreaks when dozens of tornadoes moved across southern and central Ohio, killing 41 people and destroying 7,000 homes.

In October 1999, the town of Circleville, located 28 miles south of Columbus, found itself in the path of a tornado ranked F3, or severe, on the Fujita scale, that touched down long enough to destroy several homes and commercial establishments. In September of 2000, an F4 tornado laid down an 8-mile path in Xenia to the west. While Columbus is also subject to the other perils that accompany severe thunderstorms--hail and straight-line winds--the overall risk remains low relative to other areas of the country.

More than 500 miles from the Atlantic Coast, Columbus' hurricane risk is minimal. Hurricane Opal's remnants came within 25 miles of Columbus in 1995, but did little more than drop large amounts of rain on the city. This year, both Hurricanes Ivan and Frances caused flooding in Ohio, but no significant insured losses.

Since 1776 more than 170 earthquakes have been recorded with epicenters in Ohio, but none has had a magnitude greater than 5.0. The small earthquakes that do occur are thought by seismologists to be the result of pre-existing zones of weakness in Precambrian rocks. These zones represent faults formed more than 800 million years ago and are periodically reactivated due to northeast-southwest compression. But it is the western and northeastern portions of the state that generate most of the low-level seismic activity. Central Ohio is stable by comparison.

Despite an alleged Al Qaeda plot, uncovered in June 2004, to detonate a bomb in a Columbus shopping mall, Columbus still ranks relatively low in terms of terrorism risk. Ohio homeland security officials, in conjunction with state government, first responders and academia, have developed a strategic plan to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist events.

7. Greenville, South Carolina

The three cities of Greenville, Anderson and Spartanburg (collectively referred to as "Greenville" here) lie in the hilly northwest corner of South Carolina, an area that was once a stronghold of the Cherokee Indians, and are together home to just over 1 million people.

Greenville began its growth as a city in 1770 to provide services to newly established nearby tobacco and cotton plantations. The town was known as Pleasantburg until 1831 when it was renamed, likely for the early settler Isaac Green. In 1875, the Atlanta and Charlotte Air Line railway opened, passing directly through Greenville. This opened the floodgates for the textile industry that powered much of the local economy for the next 100 years.

Known as Upstate, this part of South Carolina has been undergoing an industrial transition over the last few decades. Once dominated by textile industries, it is now a designated foreign trade zone, and boasts the highest level of foreign capital investment per capita in the nation. It is currently home to more than 240 international firms.

The majority of expected catastrophe losses for Greenville comes from severe thunderstorms, and particularly from the tornadoes and straight-line windstorms that accompany them. However, on a national scale the risk from severe thunderstorms is still low relative to other areas of the United States.

South Carolina contains one of the more seismically active areas in the central and eastern United States--second, in fact, only to the New Madrid fault zone in the central Mississippi Valley. In August of 1886, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake caused extensive damage and 60 deaths in Charleston, SC. Greenville, however, is some 200 miles to the northwest of the Charleston seismic zone and largely out of reach of its potentially damaging effects. Over the last 400 years, there have been just two recorded earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 5.0 within 100 miles of Greenville.

For states in the Southeast, hurricanes are typically the biggest threat. The orientation of South Carolina's coastline, however, makes it a low frequency state compared to Florida and North Carolina. In addition, hurricanes tend to weaken as they move over land and the Greenville area is more than 200 miles from the coast. Of this past summer's hurricanes, Jeanne came closest to Greenville, but had been downgraded to a tropical depression by the time of its arrival. As for more serious storms, only three hurricanes of Category 3 and higher have made landfall in South Carolina since 1900. Of these, the one that came closest to Greenville was Hurricane Gracie in 1959.

Greenville's risk from terrorism is quite low and South Carolina has been active in addressing what risk there is. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) has partnered with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to create the S.C Joint Terrorism Task Force in an effort to enhance the coordination of investigation and intelligence to detect and prevent future terrorist acts.

8. Grand Rapids, Michigan

The cities of Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland (collectively referred to as "Grand Rapids" here) form a triangle bounded on one side by the eastern shore of Lake Michigan that extends inland to encompass a portion of the Grand River. The area is home to more than 1.1 million people and companies such as Baker Furniture, Steelcase and Lear Corp.

The area was originally home to the Hopewell Indians, known for their large burial mounds, which date back more than 2,000 years. In the early 1800s, pelts, timber and other natural resources drew traders and merchants to the area. The ports along Lake Michigan furthered trade and expedited the transfer of goods to larger cities nearby. Thanks in large part to an international trade exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876, the area gained a reputation for producing fine furniture, and today still capitalizes on its Grand River port facilities to move furniture, produce, dairy, petroleum and automotive products to market.

The greatest relative risk in Grand Rapids is from severe thunderstorms. On average, about 17 tornadoes occur each year in Michigan. Most of those are weak, ranking at the low end of the Fujita scale at F0 or F1--capable of causing only light to moderate damage.

The most destructive tornado in Michigan history occurred in April, 1956. After touching down in Hudsonville, it moved on to completely destroy Standale, just northwest of downtown Grand Rapids. More than 700 homes were destroyed and 17 people were killed. In fact, of our 10 safest places, only Cincinnati is expected to sustain more loss from severe thunderstorms than Grand Rapids.

More than 600 miles from the Atlantic coast, Grand Rapids is well protected from the threat of hurricanes. It is also far from any significant active seismic zones. In fact, Grand Rapids and virtually the entire state of Michigan are in the United States Geological Survey's lowest seismic hazard category. Over the last 400 years, there have been no earthquakes greater than magnitude 5.0 within 100 miles of Grand Rapids.

With its port facilities, manufacturing industries, and oil refineries and storage, the Grand Rapids area protects its assets from terrorism under a statewide antiterrorism strategy. Michigan was one of the first states to submit to Washington a plan to address the threat of terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks. The plan relies on close cooperation and information sharing between 95 emergency management programs statewide, with a task force dedicated to anti-terrorism that was formed in 1996.

9. Cincinnati, Ohio

The Cincinnati metropolitan area spreads from the southwestern corner of Ohio into northern Kentucky and southeastern Indiana. The region is home to about 2 million, although the city itself has a population of about 365,000. The city, which sits on the Ohio River, is also home to seven Fortune 500 companies, including Procter & Gamble Co., the city's biggest employer. Between 1990 and 2000, the city's urban population dropped 9.1 percent, while its surrounding suburbs grew at double-digit rates.

Of the 10 safest cities, Cincinnati has the highest potential severe thunderstorm losses. The most recent encounter with severe weather was a tornado outbreak on April 9, 1999. A tornado, ranked as F4 or devastating on the Fujita scale, hit the northeastern suburbs of Blue Ash and Montgomery, and a total of seven funnel clouds were recorded in southeast Indiana and southwest Ohio on that date.

Less than 30 miles away, Xenia, Ohio was devastated by an F5 tornado during an outbreak of tornadoes in April 1974. The funnel cloud claimed 30 lives and 1,000 homes in Xenia. The economic damage was in excess of $100 million. However, the potential losses from severe thunderstorms are still relatively low on a national level, less than 25 percent of that of Oklahoma City, for example.

Almost 700 miles from the Atlantic coast, Cincinnati is safe from the damaging winds of hurricanes, though their remnants are capable of bringing gusts of tropical storm strength. In the last 100 years, two storms--Hurricane Bob in 1979 and Hurricane Erin in 1995--crossed Cincinnati, but the resulting wind damage was minimal.

Cincinnati is about 300 miles from the site of one of the largest earthquakes to strike the continental United States. In the winter of 1811-1812, a series of three earthquakes struck the central Mississippi River Valley in a region now known as the New Madrid Seismic Zone. The largest of the three is estimated to have had a magnitude of at least 7.5, and was reported to have rung church bells as far away as Boston. In the early 19th century, the population in the area was sparse. A repeat of that event today would cause enormous damage and loss, some of which would occur in Cincinnati. Nevertheless, the US Geological Survey estimates a mean recurrence interval for such an event of about 500 years, so the average potential earthquake loss for Cincinnati is quite low. The largest earthquake to occur near Cincinnati was a magnitude 5.2 earthquake that struck north-central Kentucky in 1980, 74 miles from the city.

Along with Columbus, another of our 10 safest cities, Cincinnati benefits from a strategic plan developed by state homeland security officials to mitigate, respond to and recover from terrorist events.

10. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Located at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which merge to form the Ohio River, Pittsburgh is located in southwestern Pennsylvania. With a population of more than 300,000 and about 2.3 million in the metropolitan area, Pittsburgh is Pennsylvania's second largest city.

Because of Pittsburgh's proximity to large coal deposits and major trade routes, the city had been a leading industrial powerhouse. Steel production was a major industry and gave the city its moniker, "The Steel City."

But with the collapse of the steel industry in the '70s, the economy of Pittsburgh shifted dramatically, moving from heavy industry to service industries, electronics, biotechnology and banking. Major companies in the area include Bayer Corp., H.J. Heinz, Mellon Bank, Alcoa, and Westinghouse Electric.

Due to its location, Pittsburgh has a low risk of losses associated with hurricanes, earthquakes and severe thunderstorms. At some 300 miles from the Atlantic coast, Pittsburgh's hurricane risk is relatively low. Since 1876, the remnants of 47 hurricanes have affected the Pittsburgh area, though rain, rather than high wind, has been the dominant meteorological force. The remnants of this summer's Hurricane Ivan, for example, combined with a cold front to dump a record six inches of rain on Pittsburgh in 24 hours.

Severe thunderstorms account for the highest risk for Pittsburgh, especially the straight-line winds associated with these storms. On June 12, 2003 the first tornado to hit Pittsburgh in five years traveled from the Southside to downtown Pittsburgh, but no major damage occurred. In 1980 a powerful tornado, measuring F4, or severe, on the Fujita scale, struck just 25 miles from Pittsburgh. On Memorial Day in 1985, more than 20 tornadoes affected Western Pennsylvania, leaving 65 dead, destroying more than 1,000 homes and causing $375 million in damage. The closest of these was an F3 tornado in nearby Beaver County.

Although rare, earthquakes do occasionally occur in Pennsylvania and surrounding states. Most are low magnitude and no significant earthquake has been recorded within a 200-mile radius of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh's risk from terrorism is relatively low. Pennsylvania has been very active in dealing with the threat from terrorism. After Sept. 11, the state implemented a terrorism and regional preparedness plan, including the creation of a state-level homeland security office. Part of this management system includes the City of Pittsburgh's Smart Practice efforts, created to help organize disaster response in the region.
10 Safest Cities *

1 Sacramento, Calif.
2 Rochester, N.Y.
3 Phoenix, Ariz.
4 Buffalo, N.Y.
5 Hartfold, Conn.
6 Columbus, Ohio
7 Greenville, S.C.
8 Grand Rapids, Mich.
9 Cincinnati, Ohio
10 Pittsburgh, Pa.

* Metropolitan Statistical Areas with a population of
1 million or more, ranked based on potential insured
losses from hurricanes, earthquakes, severe
thunderstorms and terrorism.

DR. JAYANTA GUIN is vice president for research and modeling at AIR Worldwide. Dr Guin is responsible for the development and enhancements of all AIR catastrophe models. He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:The 10 Safest Cities
Author:Guin, Jayanta
Publication:Risk & Insurance
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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