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The Next Time Mother Nature Strikes: Improving Insurance Industry Response to Big Storms

With summer here and another hurricane season under way, we must address concerns about post-storm insurance claims so we are better prepared for the next big one.

At a meeting of the Shoreline Preservation Task Force, state Sen. Ed Meyer (D-Guilford) discussed strategies for how to better protect the coastline and insure homes in the case of future hurricanes and severe storms.

One focus of the May meeting was to assess the insurance industry’s response to Tropical Storm Irene and to discuss lessons learned from that storm. Sen. Meyer sought answers to address residents’ concerns about difficult insurance claim experiences in the aftermath of the storm.

“Many of my constituents were very upset because they knew that Irene was being categorized as a tropical storm, yet they were being change more costly ‘hurricane’ deductibles by their insurance companies,” Sen. Meyer said. The senator also pointed to public confusion about insurance coverage for water damage versus wind damage. “My goal is to get to the bottom of this and find a way to streamline the process so that next time a storm strikes, shoreline residents get what they consider more fair treatment.”

The task force, which consists of shoreline legislators, coastal preservation advocates and other stakeholders, heard presentations from Joseph MacDougald, executive director of the University of Connecticut School of Law’s Center for Energy and Environmental Law, as well as two representatives of the Connecticut Insurance Department: George Bradner, director of the Property and Casualty Division, and Gerard O’Sullivan, manager of the Consumer Affairs Unit.

According to Insurance Department figures, the insurance industry processed more than 60,000 Connecticut claims after Irene and paid out $230 million to applicants. The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved 2,863 Connecticut applications from that storm and paid out $9 million in assistance.

State Insurance Department representatives warned that shoreline homeowner insurance is going up due to increased risk from storms, but suggested steps can be taken to mitigate risks by focusing on stronger building codes, land use, disaster preparation, recovery, education and public policy.

They praised the legislature for passing a comprehensive Coastal Management Bill sponsored by Sen. Meyer that seeks to preserve and protect our shoreline in the face of growing weather threats.

Also at the meeting, MacDougald discussed ways in which the Center for Energy and Environmental Law could assist the Task Force in developing a plan and appropriate public policy to address concerns about future weather threats and climate change.

Last summer, Tropical Storm Irene wreaked havoc on Connecticut’s coastline, causing flooding that damaged properties and further eroded beaches. The Shoreline Preservation Task Force will study the problem and use data and research to make recommendations for how prepare for future storms and preserve the existing shoreline.

“People who live along the shoreline need to know we are being proactive about preparing for future storms,” Sen. Meyer said. “We need to prepare and plan ahead so that future generations are better equipped to weather severe storms.”

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