Climate change has significant impact on insurance carriers – and their customers

Rich Poirier 
At times, global climate change can seem like a far-off occurrence — a nebulous challenge that doesn’t really affect our lives.
However, the truth is that our ecosystems and weather patterns are feeling the effects today. Depending on where you live, you might be experiencing epic wildfires, massive tornados, powerful hurricanes, torrential rains, damaging hail or devastating winter storms.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, global temperatures rose about 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit between 1901 and 2020. When the temperature increases, the polar ice caps melt, which causes sea levels to rise. As a result, seawater moves onto low-lying land and contaminates freshwater sources, and increases the risk of damage to homes and buildings during hurricanes. Because of climate change, there will be more incidents of extreme weather, including heat waves and droughts. This, in turn, can cause ecosystems to change as animals, plants, bacteria and viruses move to areas with more favorable conditions.

So, what does all this have to do with you and your faith community? While no one can singlehandedly stop climate change, you can be prepared for the weather patterns it causes. You can protect your buildings and people from, at best, expensive repairs and, at worst, tragic losses. The insurance industry has worked hard to educate people about how they can respond to climate change and mitigate risk. You can’t control weather events, but you can be better prepared for them and have the right tools on hand.

Controlling wildfires

If you live in an area that frequently experiences wildfires, prepare your property in advance to make it less susceptible to wildfire damage.

  • Remove vegetation and combustible items such as outdoor furniture from within five feet of your building.
  • Remove any dead vegetation up to 30 feet from your building.
  • Close all windows when a wildfire threat is near.
  • Clean gutters and rooftops and cover vents that might allow the fire easier access into your building.

Make sure you have all the latest updates about approaching fires. Rather than just relying on local news sources, you should be part of a monitoring system that can send you alerts when you might need to evacuate.

There are programs like our CM Wildfire Solutions™ for facilities in states prone to wildfire risk. Our program provides 24/7 wildfire monitoring. Customers who are in the path of a wildfire will receive an alert that gives them enough time to protect their property. Additionally, Church Mutual® will arrange for a fire mitigation service to come to your property ahead of a wildfire if the situation allows it.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety offers many resources for organizations in areas at risk for wildfires, including information about protecting homes and buildings and preparedness tips.

Sensor protection technology

One of the many side effects of climate change is unpredictable weather that can range from heat waves to unusually cold or freezing temperatures — often at times when you are not expecting them. Fortunately, we live in an age when companies are creating innovative digital devices to help organizations monitor their buildings, even when they’re not around. One such device is a sensor protection program that alerts a staff member or volunteer whenever it detects water or dangerously cold temperatures in the facility.

Systems like Church Mutual’s CM Sensor® are composed of  individual battery-powered sensors that communicate data to a base device. That device then transmits the data to a secure app portal, where an employee or volunteer can view the data at any time. Additionally, the system sends an alert to a designated person when something is amiss.

The sensors are dual-purpose to detect both water and temperature. The water sensors send an alert if they detect standing water at your facility. The temperature sensors send an alert when they detect low temperatures, which could lead to frozen pipes and water damage.

This helps customers mitigate problems before they start — or before they cause significant damage to the building. As extreme temperatures continue with climate change, sensor systems like this are becoming more and more valuable. Indeed, every year, innovators are creating other digital devices to help organizations protect their buildings from afar.

Insurance industry efforts

No one understands the effects of changing weather patterns like the insurance industry. Insurers help their customers recover from wildfires, hurricanes, damaging storms and many other natural disasters that can cost both money and lives. The Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) has taken steps in recent years to help people and communities become more resilient to damaging weather.

One of those steps is creating a Resilience Ratings map that provides information for viewers in 19 states along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. The map assigns each county an overall resilience rating and sub-ratings for insurance coverage, storms and recovery and socioeconomic variables. It helps people understand if they are in an area that might be more in need of insurance coverage — and what type of specific coverage they may need.

Triple-I also encourages individuals and organizations to prepare their facilities for the inevitability of severe weather. The idea is to transition from a “recovery and repair” model to “predict and prevent.” The organization is working to support more predictive modeling that allows it to more accurately warn organizations that may be at risk. Triple I also encourages green building initiatives so they can be part of the solution in fighting climate change. When claims from catastrophic weather inevitably come, the rebuilding efforts should include both climate change-resistant design and green building practices.

Additionally, the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA) is working toward encouraging better preparation at the individual level — by reinforcing roofs and re-landscaping yards — and at the community level — by improving land use planning, buyback programs and building codes.

If your church doesn’t already have a documented plan for severe weather preparation, consider creating one. At some point, you will experience weather that could be incredibly damaging, and recovery is much easier when you are prepared for the effects of climate change.

Rich Poirier is president and CEO of Church Mutual Insurance.

Views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and organization represented.


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