As natural disasters become more costly and, in some cases, more frequent, new technology can play an important role in enhancing disaster recovery, claim handling and loss control efforts.
Emerging technologies — such as sensors, drones or artificial intelligence (AI) — are playing a larger role in understanding damage from disasters, facilitating a more accurate and efficient claims process, and reducing the risk of loss before a disaster occurs.
Sensors attached to buildings can detect motion, hailstone impact on roofs, and water penetration. Drones can be used to gather images to assess damage to buildings that are unsafe or impossible to reach for human inspection. By analyzing data from sensors after earthquakes, AI can determine which buildings are safe for occupancy and provide insights into how to build safer structures in the future.
While many of these technologies have been in use for some time, the global pandemic has sped up their adoption. With social distancing requirements and travel restrictions often making it impossible for brokers to visit client sites, some turned to technology. That drove the development of apps that allow a property owner to stream images from a smartphone while doing a walk-through of a property or to answer a questionnaire to document changes in a property’s condition. Together, these developments allow a broker to engage in loss control and disaster recovery activities more efficiently than they might have been able to only two years ago.
The Power of Sensors
Sensors provide valuable loss-control and disaster recovery tools because they’re relatively inexpensive, and the data they deliver can drive major improvements in monitoring the structural health of buildings.
Micro-vibration sensors installed in buildings, for example, can help determine the structure’s natural frequency and provide information on how the building would react should an earthquake strike. That information can enable the creation of a damage assessment within minutes of a seismic event. It also can help inform business occupancy resumption programs that some municipalities require before a building can be reoccupied after an earthquake. The sensors and platforms attached to the buildings can better inform government officials and engineers, which speeds the reentry process.
Similarly, hail sensors placed on roofs can provide detailed information about the kinetic energy of each hail strike and the size of the hailstone. The sensors document exactly when the strikes occur, which is critical information in settling a claim, particularly in storm-exposed areas where there might be disputes over timing of the damage.
The hail-strike data can also be used as the basis for parametric insurance products, which are triggered when hail strikes reach certain thresholds, such as kinetic energy levels or size of the hailstones. The data can also help bring greater resolution to insurers’ hail zone maps.
The Rise of Drones
Drones can make important contributions to rapid-response damage assessments after a loss by reaching inaccessible areas. A broker armed with a drone can assess damage to a client’s structure almost as soon as the storm clears, collecting images that can be shared quickly with insurers and claims adjusters. In some cases, drone images have also helped businesses identify safe spots in the storm-damaged area, where they can assemble pop-up operations to continue serving hard-hit communities.
Drones also can provide valuable pre-loss images of everything from large buildings to oil refineries. After a disaster, a drone can fly the same route it flew before the event, capturing post-loss images that can be layered over pre-loss ones to determine the extent of damage. That detailed loss information can be shared with insurers, leading to speedier insurance recoveries for the property owner. Restoration companies can also use those images to assist in the recovery process.
Drones are also being used to examine the conditions of facilities to help determine where the business or property owner could make loss-control and safety improvements.
Satellites and Small Aircraft
Armed with high-resolution cameras and LiDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors, satellites and small aircrafts can help create three-dimensional maps of areas. LiDAR can see through trees, allowing accurate ground elevation mapping to help create more accurate flood zone maps.
Satellites can also be used to help predict areas at risk and to provide optimal route planning based on damage to get aid delivered more quickly to post-disaster areas. They could also be used to predict fire behavior and monitor drought.
The various technologies aiding disaster preparations and recovery are becoming more mature — and affordable — as they gain scale, and the tangible benefits are real. Businesses that can reopen more quickly after a disaster can get back to serving customers and clients sooner. Being at the forefront of risk, such technologies can also help risk managers to make more well-informed decisions regarding loss control and to have a more detailed story to share with their insurers. Ultimately, that adds up to being able to better manage their organization’s total cost of risk.