On November 2nd, 2012, the Star Ledger, one of New Jersey's largest newspapers, published the headline, "We Will Come Back." The article associated with the headline, written by Mark Di Ionno, describes why the Jersey Shore, and the state as a whole, had to recover from Hurricane Sandy. It had to come back, for financial reasons, cultural reasons and most importantly, emotional reasons.
It's now been three years since Hurricane Sandy made landfall and the Star Ledger published that article. Enough time has elapsed for the shock to wear off, and for homes, businesses and lives to be rebuilt. The shattered and collapsed homes that served as the subjects of the heartbreaking images of Sandy's devastation have been cleared, and new homes erected in their places. The washed out Mantoloking Bridge, which became a symbol of Sandy's record-breaking storm surge, was repaired and fully operational by summer 2013.
Having grown up at the Jersey Shore, where my family owns a home to this day, as a qualified meteorologist, and as someone who works in the insurance industry, Hurricane Sandy hit home on multiple levels. When I drive around there now, it's almost hard to believe that just three years ago, recovery of the area was a daunting and uncertain task. However, for all the new homes and repairs that have been undertaken since October 29, 2012, empty lots still remain. In Ortley Beach, oceanside blocks remain virtually empty, as the owners struggle with difficult financial decisions: Finance rebuilding on their own, wait for government support which is still pending, or sell the lots that once held the homes they so treasured. In Mantoloking, a single house sits on the beach, untouched and roped off since Hurricane Sandy; a constant, persistent reminder that we are not yet back 100%.
The difficult road back that many have endured, or are still enduring, is simply a microcosm of the protection gap that is present across the globe for property risks. Risk perception, exclusions in current policies, basic insurance knowledge and reliance of post-event government financial relief are just a few of the factors that result in homeowners and business owners being inadequately insured against natural catastrophes. A new sigma publication by Swiss Re calculates that in the United States alone, the annual expected uninsured loss from natural catastrophes is on the order of USD 30 billion. Much of this gap is driven by low earthquake insurance penetration in California, where despite the high seismic risk, the take-up rate of earthquake insurance is only about 10%.
Inaccurate risk perception and insufficient insurance coverage leads to delayed recovery times and difficult decisions, often driven by financial strain, in the wake of natural catastrophes. It's imperative that individuals understand their risks and protect themselves against extreme events, and that governments send accurate risk signals through strong regulatory frameworks, enforcement of building codes, and at times, purchasing their own insurance policies to transfer some of their own natural catastrophe risks to the private market. Otherwise, Hurricane Sandy will only happen again, and once again, the road back will be long.
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Disaster risk, Floods/storms, Resilience
Location: Lavallette, NJ, United States