Catastrophe Response

Exponent’s engineers work with catastrophe adjusters to determine the nature and extent of damage, evaluate the contributions of perhaps several causal factors, and identify the most appropriate repairs. Our staff has repeatedly responded quickly to catastrophes, often on the first available plane to the affected region. Because we have offices across the country, our structural engineers and building technologists can meet the adjusters in the field, and our teams will remain as long as required. Our experience applying Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to disaster response can be of great value to insurance catastrophe managers, who require full information to manage the carrier’s response in an inherently chaotic situation.

On a large scale, personal disasters—car crashes, accidents, disease, for example—occur with a grim regularity, such that actuaries can predict their frequency and insurance companies can reliably plan. Major catastrophes are different. The time scale over which any pattern of regularity becomes apparent is much longer, and therefore less well understood or predictable. Moreover, recent catastrophes have shown that sophisticated risk models have been unable to accurately forecast the magnitude of the losses, often grossly underestimating them. Shift an earthquake epicenter by a few tens of kilometers, and the losses can change by an order of magnitude; change the path of a tornado by a few hundred yards, and the damage can be dramatically different.

The insurance industry defines a catastrophe as an unusually severe natural or man-made disaster for which claims are expected to exceed a threshold (currently $25M), with several carriers affected1. From 1987 to 2006, almost three quarters of insurance catastrophe losses were due to hurricanes (46%) and tornados (26%), while earthquakes, winter storms, and terrorism each accounted for 6% to 8% of the almost $300B total insured losses. When individual insurance carriers declare a catastrophe, they often mobilize specially trained adjuster teams that may stay in the field for weeks evaluating damage and processing claims.

Our services include:

  • Rapid response to hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or man-made catastrophes, including damage triage, assessment of structural damage, and development of appropriate repair options 
  • Technical oversight and management of catastrophe response planning, investigation and quality control audit of engineering services 
  • Development of investigative protocols to ensure accurate and consistent investigations during catastrophe response