change. Even small rises in temperature
have significant effects on the weather
patterns that cause rainfall, temperature raise and drop, and length of seasons. Unseasonably warm or cold spans
of time affect crops and other growing
plants, which could affect the landscape.
Changing weather patterns can lead to
droughts or unusual rainfall, each bringing its own problems. Many blame human development and actions for part of
the changing environment.
Over time, development along the
coasts has exploded. While 10% of the
country accesses the shoreline (except
Alaska), at least 39% of the population
lives along the coast. More than 52% of
the population lives on land that drains
into watersheds, where water and sediments drain into a large body of water
such as an ocean or a bay. Population
density along the coast is six times larger
than the population density in inland
areas. Not only that, but there are many
people who live along rivers and streams
that flood after spring rains and snow-melt occur. In March, parts of downtown
Cincinnati and northern Kentucky were
flooded due to heavy rains.
Unfortunately, the structures built alongside areas at risk of flooding do not always
adhere to proper building specifications,
leaving people exposed to significant loss.
Some choose to rebuild in the same area
after a flood loss occurs, putting a significant strain on flood insurance resources.
Construction developments near water are not the only ones facing potential
hazards. Building too close to forested areas has had the same effect. Homes and
other buildings are constructed in the
wildland-urban interface zone, which is
the transitional space between human
development and unoccupied land. These
areas are prone to wildfires, and more
construction puts more property at risk.
Fire spreads rapidly and can easily spread
from one development to another. Some
carriers are now considering restrictions
on writing coverage in such areas.
After the wildfires have passed, there is
the risk of mudslides. Since many of the
buildings in wildfire areas are frequently
built on hills or slopes, the risk of mudslide
damage is exacerbated. Again, these structures, assuming they survive the wildfire,
are more susceptible to mudflows when
rains drench scorched and denuded land.
Moreover, as with flooding, living near a
wildland-urban interface has become a
desirable place to live aside from the inherent hazards, and these areas have increased development as well.
Aside from natural changes in cli-
mate, humans often heighten the risk of
destruction caused by natural phenom-
ena by moving into susceptible areas. It
is pleasant to live near the ocean, a lake,
a river or a woody area, but each has its
own distinct risks.
Unfortunately, people have ignored the
risk and overbuilt in these areas, putting
billions of dollars of property at risk because of poor planning. There are rarely
used construction techniques that can
minimize damage from natural events. In
order to address the increases in natural
hazards, we must review the where, what
and how of property construction.
Christine G. Barlow, CPCU, (cbarlow@
alm.com) is an editor with FC&S Online,
the authority on insurance coverage
interpretation and analysis for the
P&C industry. It is the resource agents,
brokers, risk managers, underwriters, and
adjusters rely on to research commercial
and personal lines coverage issues.
Hundreds of thousands of people
have lost property and loved ones
to these disasters, and are trying to
return to some sense of normalcy.
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