After storm Desmond

Zurich Insurance today releases the latest in an ongoing series of PERC flood reports which reviews the complete risk management cycle surrounding storm ‘Desmond’. In December 2015 the event caused severe flooding for homeowners and businesses across Cumbria and the north of England claiming at least three lives and flooding nearly 19,000 homes.

100 year floods’ should no longer be considered low risk

The report revolves around three key recommendations. The first is risk awareness and communication – citing the need for better communication of hazard, probabilities, risk and what actions to take when providing early warning services to communities.

The second centres around residual risk – when the first line of flood defenses, typically the large, constructed schemes protecting entire cities or areas, are either breached or over-topped, catastrophic loss must still be avoided.

Thirdly, is the need to learn about and to utilise better alternatives to sand bags. A range of alternative products are now available and are easier to deploy, more cost-effective and more reliable than sandbags.

In large scale events such as storm ‘Desmond’ there will always be a need to apply efficient risk management processes allowing communities and businesses to work with each other to maximise protection levels – especially when the resources available are limited. Indeed, while this report focuses on flooding following Storm Desmond, it must be noted that Desmond was quickly followed by two further storms, Eva and Frank, causing more damage and, in parts, overwhelming the capabilities of the population and the emergency services, who had just started the recovery phase from Desmond.

Conor Brennan, Head of General Insurance, Zurich UK comments:‘A risk can rarely be reduced to zero so when an insurer’s involvement in a flood solution is put to the test in the ‘real world’ they will discover things that could have been done differently – sometimes even better. Given their recent increased frequency these extreme weather events force continuous improvement – hence the rationale for these analytical PERC reports.

‘At Zurich we recognise that it must be feasible within current legislation and practice, to forbid new development on flood plains. A financial incentive is surely needed to increase the uptake / motivation to reinstate in a more resilient way. This could be a tax incentive, an allowance, a coordinated approach by the insurance industry, or other instruments to alleviate the upfront cost of the investment.

‘That said, the immediate priority for an insurer is always to ensure that the communities and businesses affected understand and protect themselves as best as possible – pre-event risk reduction is key. Likewise we will always ensure they will get back on their feet as quickly and effectively as possible. Even the best defence can often be over-topped so we as a society must be aware of the protection level we are provided with. If we understand the threats associated with a potential loss and critically, we are ready and able to accept these consequences should an event exceed these protection standards the recovery can be that less painful.’

To view the report findings in greater analytical detail please click here.

As part of Zurich’s flood resilience program, the post event review capability (PERC) provides research and independent reviews of large flood events. It seeks to answer questions related to aspects of flood resilience, flood risk management and catastrophe intervention. It looks at what has worked well (identifying best practice) and opportunities for further improvements. This PERC analysis was written by Zurich in collaboration with the JBA Trust, following the recently published PERC methodology manual and the Zurich flood resilience alliance framework.

Since first developing the PERC methodology in 2013, we have been able to apply it to 9 different large events and published our PERC manual, inviting pertinent organizations to use the method freely to contribute to a growing body of learnings from these devastating floods. If these learnings find their way into decision-making and action, we hope to contribute to the reduction of human tragedy as well as property losses.