Climate change is having a significant impact on insurance companies – and their customers

Rich Pear Tree
Sometimes global climate change can seem like a distant event – ​​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 could face epic wildfires, massive tornadoes, powerful hurricanes, torrential rains, devastating hail or devastating winter storms.

According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, global temperatures have increased by approximately 1.98 degrees Fahrenheit between 1901 and 2020. As the temperature rises, the polar ice caps melt, causing sea levels to rise. As a result, seawater moves to low-lying areas and contaminates freshwater sources, and increases the risk of damage to homes and buildings during hurricanes. Due to climate change, there will be more extreme weather events, 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 of this have to do with you and your community of faith? Although no one alone can stop climate change, you can prepare for the weather it causes. You can protect your buildings and people from, at best, costly repairs and, at worst, tragic losses. The insurance industry has worked hard to educate people on 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 at your fingertips.

Control forest fires

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

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

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

There are programs like our CM Wildfire Solutions™ for installations 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 giving them enough time to protect their property. In addition, Church Mutual® will arrange for a fire mitigation service to come to your property prior to a wildfire if the situation permits.

The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Security offers many resources for organizations in wildfire risk areas, including information on 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 don’t expect it. Luckily, we live in a time when companies are creating innovative digital devices to help organizations monitor their buildings, even when they’re not there. One such device is a sensor protection program that alerts a staff member or volunteer whenever they detect dangerously cold water or temperatures in the facility.

Systems like Church Mutual’s CM Sensor® are made up of individual battery-powered sensors that communicate data to a base device. This device then transmits the data to a secure application 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 goes wrong.

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

This helps clients 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 increasingly valuable. Indeed, every year, innovators create more digital devices to help organizations protect their buildings remotely.

Insurance industry efforts

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

One of these steps is to create a Resilience ratings map that provides information to viewers in 19 states along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. The map assigns each county an overall resilience rating and sub-ratings for insurance coverage, storms and recovery, and socio-economic variables. This helps people understand if they are in an area that might need more insurance coverage and what specific type of coverage they might need.

Triple-I also encourages individuals and organizations to prepare their facilities for the inevitability of inclement weather. The idea is to move from a “recovery and repair” model to a “prediction and prevention” model. 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 the fight against climate change. When catastrophic weather-related disasters inevitably occur, reconstruction efforts must include both climate-resilient design and green building practices.

Additionally, the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA) is working to encourage better preparedness at the individual level – by strengthening roofs and redeveloping yards – and at the community level – by improving land use planning, buy-back programs and building codes.

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

Rich Pear Tree is President and Chief Executive Officer of Church Mutual Insurance.

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Jerry B. Hatch