Natural Hazards and insurance: how vulnerable is your home?

Natural hazards_flood_Collaroy_2As Australia deals with widespread flooding, storm surges and erosion, there are things you can do to assess the risks to your property.

Australian homes are exposed to a wide range of natural hazards, including bushfire, cyclone, storm surge, flood and hail, among others. In terms of re-insurance, Australia accounts for 2% of the global market, but 6% of the losses.

Whether you own a house or are looking to buy one, you should be aware of the potential natural hazards of an area so you can understand your property’s vulnerability, and how you can protect your family and your assets. Insurers understand this and invest significant funding in tools that identify all risks affecting any house in any specific location in Australia. Most of this information and the tools are not publicly available, but there are websites that can help you choose an appropriate home insurance policy and assist you in your due diligence when deciding whether to buy a particular house.

Below are 4 key steps you can take to assess your risk:

Natural hazards_flood_Collaroy_1

  1. Use publicly available tools to assess the cost of replacing the building materials and content of your house

The website Understand Insurance has general information on how premiums are calculated, including descriptions of most factors that will affect an insurance policy. You can also find links to a building value calculator (powered by Cordell) and a contents value calculator (powered by Sum Insured). The building value calculator is powered by Cordell and you will need to input an address, number of rooms, size of the house, height, building materials and others. The contents calculator is powered by Sum Insured and requires information about furniture, number of rooms and quality of your contents. These tools estimate the cost of replacement of your building materials and house content respectively, following a loss event. Insurers such as QBE and GCU use these calculators. Bigger insurers such as GIO and Suncorp have their own tools that have roughly the same building and content factors and follow a similar logic.

  1. Natural hazard data used by insurers

Hazard data produced by governments and agencies for emergency-response and development-control purposes are the most relevant source of data for the insurance industry. Hazard data is often produced only at a local government level and not always made available in its raw (and more accurate) form. As result, finding accurate data or information can be challenging since there is no common platform to all hazard risk knowledge in Australia. Insurers use many different sources of natural hazard data to assess likelihood of flood, bushfire and cyclone frequency. The biggest insurance-driven database in Australia is the Insurance Council of Australia’s DataGlobe, which is not publicly available, although raw data can be made available to member companies of the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA).

  1. The Building Resilience Rating Tool

The Building Resilience Rating Tool (BRRT) was released in May 2016 and it is available at www.resilient.property. Produced by Edge Environment for the ICA, the BRRT Beta version calculates the Resilience Rating of your house based in its building materials and natural hazard data queried from ICA DataGlobe. The Resilience Rating is a houses’ ability to properly resist stress and adversity. You need an address, information on the building materials and position on slope. The natural hazards assessed by the tool are flood, hail, wind/cyclone and bushfire. Insurance companies may use different natural hazard data and different weights in their calculations. The BRRT only approximates the assessment of most underwriters and no costs of replacement are provided.

NRMA Insurance has a simplified tool that calculates water leaks, fire and bush fire risks at suburb level not at the individual property.

  1. Access to hazard information

The list below offers diverse natural hazard information in the form of online tools, pdf maps and the like, at residential and state levels. It is important to note that some natural hazard data is simply not available for some locations. Make sure you explore the information and metadata in local government websites to getthe most accurate assessment of your area.

BUSHFIRE-PRONE AREASNatural_hazard_australia_bushfire

  • ACT interactive map.
  • NSW interactive map; fire warnings and events.
  • NT click on the map for interactive map of events. Click on tab “Download Data” > Data as image or shapefile > Fire history > Nth Aust Fire Frequency for a tif map with bushfire frequency (Photoshop or GIS software required to open this file).
  • QLD interactive map. Select the brown tab Hazards and Safety on the right. You need to zoom the viewer to see the information in the layers.
  • SA interactive map.
  • TAS interactive map of fire warnings and events.
  • VIC interactive map. Layers need to be in the correct scale to be visualized. Select Map Catalogue > Designated Bushfire Prone Areas. Select the info button and zoom to select your property. The Designated Bushfire Prone Areas are a binary value: inside or outside a bushfire zone.
  • WA click on the map to enter the interactive map. It takes some time to load.

FLOOD-PRONE AREAS

  • ACT interactive map. Very limited areas.
  • NSW local governments scale map. Information on past flood events and warnings.
  • NT PDF maps. Very limited areas.
  • QLD interactive map. Choose layers “Basil Level Flood Modelling”, “Rapid Hazard Assessment”, and tab Simulations. Layers need to be in the correct scale to be visualised. Data is very limited in a local scale.
  • SA interactive map. Layers need to be in the correct scale to be visualised. Data is very limited in a local scale.
  • TAS PDF maps. Very limited areas.
  • VIC interactive map. Layers need to be in the correct scale to be visualised. Select Planning zone overlay > Planning Scheme Overlays > Land Subject to Inundation. Select the info button and zoom to select your property.
  • WA interactive map. Select the layers “FPM 100 Year ARI Floodway and Flood Fringe Areas (DOW-041)”, “FPM Flood Level Points (m AHD) (DOW-040)” and “FPM Floodplain Development Strategy (DOW-032)”.

natural hazard cycloneWIND AND CYCLONE AREAS

  • Wind Australian Standard AS/NZS1170.2:2011

CYCLONE AREAS

STORM SURGE AREAS

  • NSW local governments scale map. Information on past storm surge events and warnings.
  • NT PDF maps. Very limited areas.
  • QLD raw data. Some PDFs maps of local governments available at Burdekin, Cairns, Douglas, Fraser Coast, Townsville.
  • TAS PDF report. Storm surge map on a State scale available on page 32, figure 18.
  • WA PDF map on a State scale.

Raw data or public maps were not found for ACT, SA or VIC.

I hope this list of tools and information helps you find more information on natural hazard exposure at your property. This post is not exhaustive, and some hazards such as hail and earthquake were not included but are frequently assessed by insurers to calculate risk.

If you have advanced knowledge of maps and data, please contact me and I will provide you with a similar list that contains the links for raw hazard data public available.

Thanks to Tom, Jonas and Sarah for early comments on this blog post.

Data note: Always be cautious using any natural hazard data and always consider the most conservative scenario when making a decision based on imprecise information.

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Bonus section: Further information on climate change

SEA LEVEL RISE

TEMPERATURE AND RAIN CHANGES

  • Climate Change in Australia: user-friendly platform to access future climate projections for Australia.
  • NARCLIM: user friendly platform to access future climate projections downscaled for NSW and ACT.

CLIMATE CHANGE TOOL

  • Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Tool The CChangeAP is a climate change tool that identifies potential climate change risks to your building/development. It is a Climate Change Adaptation Assessment tool and it can be a starting point for buildings to achieve the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star Credit. You need an address and the tool will present predicted future scenarios (2040 and 2060) for increase or decrease of meteorological indicators such as rain, temperature, wind speed, solar radiation and others. This tool doesn’t include any natural hazards. You will need to input self-assessed risk, consequences and actions derived from climate change. The tool will output a matrix of the potential risks to your project and will highlight your mitigation actions.
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