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Study of global disasters identifies common threads to community resilience

June 11, 2018

Devastation after Hurricane Harvey suggests caution with rebuilding in flood zones. Post-event...

Kathleen Savio

Chief Executive Officer

Kathleen Savio is Chief Executive Officer for Zurich North America, a position she has held since... About this expert


When I started in my new role as CEO of Zurich North America in January 2018, it was on the heels of one of the most challenging years the insurance industry has seen in almost a decade. Severe weather took its toll on our customers and communities across the United States and Canada in 2017. There were damaging hail storms in Colorado and Texas and wildfires in California, and three major hurricanes made landfall in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2018, to which Zurich contributes every year, identified extreme weather as the top global risk in terms of likelihood and the second top risk in terms of impact. The frequency and severity of these hazards are on the rise.

As the 2018 hurricane season gets underway, Zurich is sharing the lessons we’ve learned from years of first-hand experience studying a dozen global disasters. Some of those lessons:

  • Every dollar invested in disaster resilience saves five dollars in future losses.
  • Early warnings paired with contingency, emergency and risk reduction planning can save lives and protect businesses.
  • Community engagement and inclusion of vulnerable groups is essential to building strong disaster risk management awareness and planning.

Learning from past disasters not only helps identify potential risks, but allows businesses and communities to build resilience to future events. Zurich uses the Post-Event Review Capability (PERC) methodology in determining the resilience of people, supply chains, systems, legal and cultural norms before, during and after a disaster. In short, it helps us to examine what went well and what did not. Our findings are grounded in the perspective that while hazards are natural, disasters are not. 

Our research has identified common threads that run through disasters. Some of those threads can bind communities together and boost resilience. Other threads can fray and bring disaster. Using PERC methodology, our report, “Extreme weather events: How hard lessons strengthen resilience against the next big event,” illustrates strikingly similar challenges faced by risk managers regardless of where they operate or the particular hazards they face.

Building resilience to the potential dangers of severe weather doesn’t mean hazards won’t cross our path, but being unprepared for them will almost guarantee disaster.

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