Technology Plays Role in Mitigating November Tornadoes’ Impact

Insurance losses may exceed $1 billion, but technology-driven improvements in forecasting precision and real-time tornado warning capabilities have helped to prevent greater loss of life.

(Recovery efforts following the  190 mph EF-4 tornado that struck Washington, Ill. on Nov. 17. Photo courtesy of Caterpillar, Inc.)

With at least eight deaths and over 200 injuries, the spate of 16 tornadoes that touched down in Illinois and and other Midwestern states on Sunday, Nov. 17, took a higher than average toll. However, given the severity and unseasonal nature of these storms, it is remarkable that more casualties were not reported. Many are crediting residents’ response to increasingly precise storm warnings.

National Public Radio has reported that a combination of technological factors are the driving forces behind these improvements. The National Weather Service’s increasingly accurate forecasting has led to more accurate and geographically precise predictions regarding tornado outbreaks and landfall. A carefully-targeted warning system utilizes cell towers within the danger zones to broadcast up-to-the-minute information to mobile phone users within the area. These notifications go out to all newer mobile devices without need of a special app or prior sign up. In Washington, Ill. (see above illustration), one of the hardest hit communities, residents had as many as 15 minutes to seek shelter. The precision of these warnings is critical to their success, since inhabitants of tornado-prone areas are more likely to be responsive when they know they are directly in harm’s way. This technology has the potential to end the old-style blanket warnings that might cover an entire county, causing many residents unnecessarily taking refuge in their basements, and potentially fostering a sense that warnings are not to be taken seriously.

An “meticulous” evacuation effort also helped to keep injuries and fatalities low in Washington, Ill., where 500 homes were destroyed and several fatalities occurred, according to Northern Voices Online.

Insurance losses from the out-of-season storms could top $1 billion, according to the Chicago Business Journal.  Hundreds of buildings have been destroyed, and insurers are reporting mounting claims – around 6,000  to date, according to Insurance Journal.  Adjusters from American Family Insurance arrived on Tuesday to begin the process of helping those hardest hit to rebuild their lives.

BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois is providing financial help to Washington, Ill.’s high school football team. The Washington Panthers had made it to the finals for the first time in over two decades, and the community was rooting for their success. The tornadoes left several players and coaches without access to their homes and equipment. The carrier’s donation of $2,500 will enable the team to participate in the big match in Springfield this Saturday. The Illinois Department of Insurance is also offering one-on-one counseling to residents of this stricken community,  Insurance Journal reports.

Nationwide is also providing humanitarian relief in Indiana, with supplies of clean water, food, paper products, cleaning supplies and more, according to a company statement.

Insurers also continued their humanitarian aid to victims of Typhoon Haiyen. The Hartford (Hartford) has pledged $100,000 to the American  Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts, including a $50,000 corporate given and a dollar-for-dollar match of employee donations. Prudential Financial (Newark, N.J.) will donate $250,000 to UNICEF, the International Rescue Committee and World Vision, to support the organizations’ immediate relief efforts, especially for children who have been affected by the disaster, according to a Prudential source.

Teri Ryan // Teri Ryan is the Business Director at Insurance Innovation Reporter. She has been with the magazine since its launch in 2013. Prior to her current role, she had most recently worked as a freelance technical writer on topics relating to the use of IT in the insurance industry. She has previously worked as a B-to-B account manager, selling specialty ingredients to personal care companies. She can be reached at [email protected]

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