Issue Briefs

In October 2018, the Wharton Risk Center’s Policy Incubator hosted a workshop designed to evaluate policy options for expanding the number of people with flood insurance in the United States, particularly those of low and moderate income. In this brief, we present seven approaches that workshop participants felt had the potential to generate substantial increases in take-up rates across the country.

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One reason that individuals do not purchase insurance is that they are strongly influenced by cognitive biases in their decision process. Two web-based studies reveal that individuals who experienced regret because they were uninsured at the time of a hurricane tended to purchase insurance in the next period. One way to reduce regret for these individuals is to add flood coverage to a homeowners’ policy.

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In a new issue brief, we examine Portland’s Flood Insurance Savings Program in detail, discussing its structure, participants, and impact on flood insurance premiums. We also identify lessons learned that may be useful to other communities struggling with flood insurance affordability and to policymakers considering NFIP reform.

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Drawing on our recent report, The Emerging Private Residential Flood Insurance Market in the United States, this issue brief describes the Florida market and the measures the state has taken to support its growth.

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In this Issue Brief, we pose three questions to guide the development of a framework for catastrophe risk management: (1) How do we harness the strengths of the private sector in financing disaster risk? (2) What are the complementary roles of the public and private sectors in promoting greater resilience? And (3) How do we effectively integrate risk reduction and risk transfer to provide effective protection against catastrophes?

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The costs emanating from a wildfire can be broad and impact many sectors. Depending on legal and regulatory regimes, costs can shift across different groups. In this brief, we focus on electric utilities and the share of wildfire costs that they pay in California for utility ignited wildfires.

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Drawing on our recent report, The Emerging Private Residential Flood Insurance Market in the United States, our newest issue brief describes the key players and structure of the residential flood market.

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Decision makers tend to be shortsighted when choosing whether to invest in protection against catastrophic risks. They are often reluctant to incur upfront costs for loss mitigation measures because the near-term payoffs do not appear to justify the expenditure. Deliberative thinking can better direct managers’ attention to the multifaceted sequences and consequences that follow low-probability, high-impact events.

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Our ability to foresee and protect against natural catastrophes has never been greater, yet we fail to heed the warnings and protect ourselves and our communities. What can we do to encourage people to take steps now to reduce future losses? In our book The Ostrich Paradox, we characterize six decision-making biases that cause individuals, communities and organizations to underinvest in protection against low-probability, high-consequence events. We then propose a behavioral risk audit that recognizes that these biases are difficult to overcome but that they can be used to develop strategies to improve individuals’ decision making processes in preparing for disasters before they occur.

Flood insurance in Puerto Rico has attracted media and policymaker attention since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the island in late summer 2017. One reason is the incredibly low take-up rate for flood insurance, which left some residents financially vulnerable following flood damage from back-to-back hurricanes. Another is the surprising shift over the last five years from the vast majority of flood policies being written with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to instead being written by private sector insurers.

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The Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center is undertaking a study funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute (CIRI). The purpose of the project is to identify barriers and opportunities for improving infrastructure insurance and resilience for catastrophic events and disruptions. This brief summarizes the key findings and recommendations upon completion of the first two phases of the project.

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In connection with the National Flood Insurance Program’s anticipated reauthorization in 2017, Congress is looking at several proposals that would address the program’s Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) coverage, expanding its eligible uses and giving policyholders more funds to implement qualifying risk-reduction measures. In this policy brief, we examine ICC claims for single-family homes from 1997 to 2014 and report on our findings from conversations with floodplain managers in several states. Our analysis provides context for ongoing debates in Congress and highlights some of the key reasons the program is not more widely used.

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We study the relationship between disaster risk reduction and insurance coverage to assess the presence of moral hazard for two different natural hazards with survey data from Germany and the United States. The results show that moral hazard is absent. Nevertheless, adverse risk selection may be present. This has significant policy relevance such as opportunities for strengthening the link between insurance and risk reduction measures and the use of risk-based insurance premiums.

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A well-designed insurance program can play an important role in linking investment in cost-effective reduction measures with financial protection should a disaster occur. Measures to increase resilience to floods include improved accuracy of flood maps and communication on flood risk, elevation certification for at-risk structures, vouchers and/or other financial aid for homeowners to purchase flood insurance and undertake loss-reduction measures that will also address affordability issues, and government acquisition of at-risk properties for open space and flood buffer zones.

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Our study on Charleston County, South Carolina finds that if insurance premiums reflected risk, the price of flood insurance for many properties in Special Flood Hazard Areas in Charleston County, South Carolina could more than double over their current subsidized premiums. Elevating a house a few feet can decrease the homeowner’s risk-based premium by 70 to 80 percent, saving thousands of dollars annually. We find that coupling vouchers with mitigation loans to elevate homes can reduce government expenditures by more than half over a voucher program that does not require mitigation when the cost of elevating a house is about $25,000 in high hazard A zones. In the coastal V zones, cost savings can be achieved even when the cost of elevation is as high as $75,000.

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We find that over the studied period, in FEMA-mapped 100-year floodplains (SFHAs), the average claim rate – defined as the ratio of paid claims to the number of policies-in-force – is 1.55 percent. Surprisingly, outside the 100-year floodplains, the average claim rate is also higher than 1 percent at 1.27 percent, with no statistically significant difference in the rates across the two groups. This higher-than-expected claim rate in non-SFHAs could reflect inaccurate and out-of-date flood maps. It could also be due to adverse selection: only the riskiest properties in FEMA-defined non-SFHAs are insuring in these areas. Our results show that the majority of claims are for modest amounts. Half of claims over the three decades of data we analyzed are for less than 10 percent of the building’s value. Only a small portion of claims exceed three-quarters of a building’s value.

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Our findings suggest that buyers of floodplain properties have a limited awareness about flood hazards, despite the federal requirement for flood insurance for floodplain properties with a federally-backed mortgage. Our results suggest that it is the result of being flooded, rather than knowing there is a potential to be flooded, that affects property prices (“seeing is believing”).

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Federal disaster relief potentially creates moral hazard: receiving or expecting to receive money from the government after a disaster might reduce demand for insurance, resulting in even greater need for government relief when another disaster hits. Overall, we find that federal disaster assistance grants result in decreased demand for insurance. Low‐interest SBA disaster loans have no systematic impact on insurance purchase decisions.

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Six months after Hurricane Sandy, we surveyed over 1,000 homeowners in New York City who live in a flood-prone area about their flood risk perceptions and flood insurance purchases. 44% of respondents stated they purchased flood insurance because it was mandatory. Only 21% bought flood insurance voluntarily, 33% did not have coverage, and 2% did not know whether they had flood coverage. People tend to overestimate their flood probability and underestimate their potential flood damage.

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The U.S. Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) was established in 2002 as a temporary measure to make terrorism  insurance widely available to corporations.  TRIA will expire at the end of 2014 unless extended by the federal government.  If extended, the government might require insurers to assume more risk which could increase prices.  We find that under current market conditions, firms’ demand for terrorism insurance is strong and is not very sensitive to gradual price changes.

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A midsize community of 50,000 people that experiences a moderate hail storm could expect to reduce losses by approximately $4 to $8 million by adopting and enforcing appropriate building codes.

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The President signed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act with overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress. This bill included provisions for risk-based pricing for flood insurance to improve the NFIP’s financial basis. Some legislators are now wavering on their commitment to risk-based pricing because of concerns their constituents will not be able to afford flood insurance. We propose a means-tested voucher program coupled with a loan program for investments in loss reduction measures, made affordable by reductions in the NFIP risk-based premiums.

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The NFIP’s Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary incentive program that encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum NFIP requirements. Today, only 28 of the 1,466 NFIP communities in New York State participate in the CRS. This 1.9% participation rate is three times lower than the national average.

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The Rockaway Peninsula (RP) is an 11-mile community in New York City with a population of 103,825 that was severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  Data analysis shows that only 14.4 percent of the housing units in the RP had flood insurance in 2012.

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We propose three guiding principles to make insurance more transparent and equitable, and to encourage investment in protective measures: Principle 1: Premiums reflecting risk; Principle 2: Dealing with equity and affordability issues; Principle 3: Multi-year insurance.  The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is a natural starting point for multi-year insurance tied to the property, not the homeowner.

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The more effective an investment is in preventing harm, the more difficult it is for decision makers to remember the need for the investments.  It is the experience of real — not imagined — losses that seemed essential for convincing decision makers of the value of protective investments…

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Following the devastating storm surge and flooding from Hurricane Sandy, concerns have been raised about the status of flood insurance in the United States. Our analysis shows that many homeowners who sustained flood damage from Sandy did not have a flood insurance policy…

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Rationales for voting include self-interest, duty to nation or group, and duty to humanity.  People may believe that voting in self-interest is a rational way to pursue their interests, however this is not rational, because the probability of a single vote having an effect is extremely low.  Americans who believe it is their duty to vote on the basis of self-interest tend to oppose taxes, but favor spending that they see as benefiting themselves personally

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A U.S. law, “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007,” requires that all cargo bound for the U.S. must be scanned by non-intrusive technology to detect radiological contraband before the cargo is loaded onto a ship at an international port. The operational feasibility of 100-percent scanning has been questioned by many government officials and private sector professionals involved with managing supply chains. Our study compares the operational feasibility of two types of inspection protocols designed to detect the presence of nuclear devices…

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Our analysis of the entire NFIP portfolio between 1978 and 2008 reveals that in some states, policyholders have paid as much as 15 times in premiums as they have collected in claims; in other states, policyholders have received 5 times more in insurance claims than they paid in premiums over this period…

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Many people who live in flood-prone areas had not purchased flood insurance or had let their policies lapse. The average tenure of flood insurance in the U.S. is between 2 and 4 years…

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Why do few people in catastrophe-prone areas invest in risk reduction measures?
Long‐term sustainable solutions can overcome myopic thinking and provide economic incentives for encouraging sound investments in risk reduction measures…

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The cost and availability of property insurance is becoming a significant problem for some residents in high-risk coastal areas of the United States…

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