Recent weather-tracking analysis underscores a trend of rapidly intensifying storms throughout the United States, including storms with hurricane force winds and torrential rains. An extensive study by the First Street Foundation published in February finds that coastal areas up and down the East Coast and Gulf Coast will see major increases in economic losses due to hurricane winds over the next 30 years.
Across the U.S., approximately 3.5 million properties are currently in danger of experiencing Category 5 hurricane force winds, according to the First Street analysis, and that number is expected to increase to more than 5.6 million over the next three decades.
In Massachusetts, Plymouth and Essex counties are expected to see some of the highest increases in losses — 69% and 77%, respectively. The First Street report also indicated that winds will track further inland, meaning more than just coastal communities will be impacted.
Stephen Batchelder, vice president of Claims Operations and Risk Management at MIIA, said municipal weather-related losses often have multiple and overlapping elements, including water damage, wind damage, lightning, and convection — with freeze-ups due to extreme cold being the most consistent issue statewide. Over the past three years, three different “catastrophe”-designated storms impacted MIIA members, with property losses totaling more than $18 million.
“Water in any form is the enemy to us, and we’re seeing more frequent, more severe, tropical-type storms, in addition to the issues we see with winter storms and cold weather,” Batchelder said. “This is definitely something we are facing from a building maintenance perspective — from flooding due to heavy rains to clogged drains on roofs to lightning strikes.”
The increase in weather threats also increases the need for resiliency planning. One of the most effective steps municipalities can take, Batchelder said, is to include an experienced facilities professional in all building and preventative maintenance planning.
“Facilities professionals bring a valuable perspective on how to most efficiently maintain and update a municipal building,” he said. “They have relevant insights into what it takes to effectively maintain a building over the long term.”
In existing buildings, municipalities can boost resiliency by having a written mitigation policy in place ahead of storms, and an ongoing maintenance plan that is regularly updated and frequently implemented, according to Ken Wertz, executive director of the Massachusetts Facilities Administrators Association.
“Storm planning should be comprehensive, including everything from preparation to building staffing during the inclement weather — which can be challenging over a weekend — to clean-up,” he said.
Not every town building is staffed by an experienced facilities professional — libraries and senior centers, for example — so comprehensive planning and training are key.
Planning for new construction can be a complex issue, with state building code updates, changes in green building (stretch) requirements, and local building authority considerations. All of these must be balanced with the threat of intensified weather patterns.
In some ways, new and green building codes will support efforts to boost weather resiliency, Wertz said. For example, according to code, new buildings must have hurricane bracing. And green building standards require a thicker wall envelope for greater thermal efficiency, which also supports overall building resiliency. Additionally, local planners may want to consider incorporating design elements that exceed code, such as a more robust roof structure.
Local officials, particularly building inspectors, need to stay current on all codes, Wertz said. For larger municipal projects, the design team also must be up to date, as they are required to provide affidavits confirming that designs and the project have met all code requirements. As a rule of thumb, having a five- to 10-year (at minimum) capital improvement plan for large items is critical, he said.
Municipal insurers, including MIIA, can provide checklists and best practices for building inspections and maintenance planning. To help with building upgrades and safety improvements, MIIA members can apply for risk management awards as well as grants (through the MIIA Rewards program).
MIIA: Amusement Rental Risks Are Best Avoided
Amusements such as bounce houses, riding bulls and trampolines may seem like a good idea for increasing the fun factor at city or town events, but they also bring a high risk of injury. And because they aren’t typically covered under general liability insurance, related financial losses are also a risk.
More than 18,000 bounce house injuries and more than 100,000 trampoline injuries are treated in emergency rooms each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A study published last year in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found nearly 28,000 reported mechanical bull injuries in emergency rooms over a 20-year period.
When renting bounce houses or other amusements, the vendor typically requires a contract obligating the renter to provide up to $1 million in insurance coverage and to assume responsibility for any loss that arises from the rental event, according to Stephen Batchelder, vice president of Claims Operations and Risk Management at MIIA. When attempting to comply with this provision, municipal entities may expose themselves to a much higher liability exposure above the $100,000 damage cap afforded under Chapter 258 of the Massachusetts General Laws, he said. In addition, many general liability coverage forms exclude this type of exposure, due to the high risk of injury.
“From a risk management perspective, these rentals can lead to injuries as well as contractual and coverage complexities,” Batchelder said, “and so we recommend avoiding them.”
For more information, contact your community’s insurer or your MIIA account manager.