As I record these thoughts, Hurricane Irma has been downgraded to a tropical depression after having lashed Florida and more than a half-dozen Caribbean Islands. The storm led to 6.3 million Florida residents being ordered to evacuate, while more than 6.5 million are without electricity. Nearly one million Georgia and South Carolina residents are also without electricity.
On Friday, a magnitude 8.1 tremor rocked Mexico. This was Mexico’s strongest earthquake in a century. As buildings in Mexico City were rocked by the quake, residents fled into the streets.
After having dumped an estimated 27 trillion gallons of rain over Texas and Louisiana over a six-day period only two weeks ago, some estimate that Hurricane Harvey will be responsible for $75 billion in property loss. Thirty-three Texas counties remain under federal disaster declaration, and more than 72,000 people needed to be rescued.
Not to be outdone, geopolitical events have also crowded the stage with worries ranging from nuclear saber rattling to a disruption of the Northeast U.S. power grid.
As the country honored the memory of those who were lost on 9/11 on the 16th anniversary Monday, heroic volunteers and first responders continued to provided aid and comfort in Texas, as others aided Floridians.
As risk managers and insurance professionals, we have our own important role to play. We are uniquely qualified to help businesses and homeowners manage elevated levels of risk now and in the future. Weather-related events that were once unimaginable before Superstorm Sandy—flooded subway tunnels, sand-filled homes and washed-out roller coasters—have now been joined by 51 inches of rain in Texas, which is a record from a tropical cyclone in the continental U.S., and nearly a half-million people requesting FEMA disaster assistance.
It is our obligation to deploy the tools and skillset only we possess, to help organizations and individuals prepare for and mitigate risks as they grow in frequency and magnitude.
Along with our unique qualifications, we are endowed with the insight to navigate around a number of challenges. The first of these challenges can be met by addressing our collective capacity for selective memory.
Resilience, without question, is among the most laudable human qualities. Nothing’s impossible as long as we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again, as Jerome Kern’s popular 1936 song reminds us. The great many of us persevere through hardship to greet a new day. When required to do so, we do it again. However, along with this admirable human pluck and perseverance comes a side order of forgetfulness.
Once sunshine returns—as it already has across Florida—and disorder has been made orderly again, it is not unusual for a certain amount of amnesia to set in. We rebuild houses washed away by the ocean, just as some of us who purchased new cars to replace those washed away by flooding in Houston only a few years ago have watched these new cars also be washed away.
As time passes, the human tendency toward forgetfulness stubbornly burrows deep into the ground. It is in many of our natures to happily accept the return of good fortune and to believe misfortune has been safely secured in a cage from which it won’t ever escape.
While we in the insurance and risk management community should not discourage homeowners and businesses from optimistically starting all over again as they anticipate a brighter tomorrow, we are called upon to help them understand risk does not recede along with the floodwaters. We must also help them to mitigate risks going forward while transferring them to insurance products.
It is our professional obligation.
We are also challenged to engage homeowners and businesses with equal parts diplomacy and delicacy. While no man or woman would accuse us of having had any part in causing the onslaught of weather-related events, we must press the case for robust risk management and insurance transference without being perceived as fear mongers. We are the good men and women who are here to help homeowners and businesses secure themselves from financial ruin and calamity, rather than to profit from them.
While none of us wishes for weather-related calamities and geopolitical gamesmanship, they do provide members of our community with “teachable moments” regarding risk management and insurance products. Successful selling requires messaging that compels the listener to act. There must be a reason to purchase a product or service; otherwise, there is no reason to modify the status quo. When risk becomes reality, it is much easier to understand why risk management and transference matter.
It has been said, “Never waste a good crisis.” Unfortunately, the crises unfolding in Texas, Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean are as good as they come.