Monitoring Hurricane Risk And Assessing Damage From A Desktop

Although it is unlikely anyone at Wall Street Network (WSN) would say so publicly, this year’s hurricane season must be something of a disappointment. The company has developed a sophisticated application that predicts hurricane threats, shows areas and buildings at risk, can suggest safe housing areas for people in the storm’s path and assess damage afterwards. The system hasn’t gotten much use so far this year, although WSN predicted that this would be a relatively quiet season for hurricanes. .

Called XtremeGIS, ( it uses information from AccuWeather to provide forecasts — from years-ahead looks at the potential for the season to minute-by-minute tracking of the storm’s path including winds and rainfall in specific areas.

“For the 2013 Atlantic and Gulf tropical cyclone season we forecasted a mild season with 9 to 13 named storms while all other forecasts named 15 to 19 storms with 4 major events,” said Lester Pierre, chairman of WSN, “because our research and data indicated a high probability of a mild season. As of today, there have been nine named storms in the north Atlantic and Gulf-basins. So you can see, we are quite satisfied about our forecast.  Having a mild tropical cyclones season has a very big impact on the economy.”

WSN’s knowledge management software, which uses the ArcGIS Online mapping and analytical tool from Esri, can show companies office buildings, manufacturing sites, distribution centers retail outlets and transport links that could be threatened by a storm, and show them in time for companies to act on the information.

 “The bottom line is you don’t have to be a meteorologist to understand a hazard or a rocket scientist to understand property risk,” says Kristina Mazelis, chief operating officer at WSN. “We do the science and analytics assessing risk and provide access to it through ArcGIS Online, giving everyone the opportunity to assess their own risk.

The first three components available now include Xtreme Tropical Cyclone, which has historical data and real-time storm tracking; Xtreme Proximity which allows users to look up perils such as flood zones, and an alerting system for users in geographic areas they specify.  Through a subscription service, users can use ArcGIS Online to create maps with additional layers of proprietary company information such as offices and service territories and then share the maps over the Internet or to mobile devices. Companies can keep their proprietary information confidential while using it with the WSN Web-based mapping tools.

“This is a real game changing, disruptive technology,” says Simon Thompson, director of commercial industry, Esri. “Currently, when a catastrophic event occurs, everything shuts down. XtremeGIS gives businesses the advantage of insight so they can take control of their own activities and rethink where and how they grow.”

Lowe’s, for instance, used advance warning of a storm to buy up the available inventory of batteries, making it the place to go for storm-preparation supplies. A Mexican railroad used weather forecasts to pre-position repair supplies so they could keep their trains away from danger, restore tracks ahead of the competition and pick up business while the other lines were in repair mode.

AccuWeather provides updated forecasts for approaching events approximately every four hours. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground, looked at forecasting of Hurrican Rita in 2005 and concluded that improved accuracy of storm track and wind speed forecasts can reduce unnecessary evacuations, saving millions, or even hundreds of millions of dollars.
Once the province of a few specialists, risk is now spreading across the enterprise with GIS tools and iPad displays.  A Microsoft partner, WSN has built its application into Azure for two-way information flows and subscribers can share maps internally with SharePoint. It also uses i-cubed ( imagery to survey storm damage, often supplemented with images form social media and YouTube.

To develop an easily used risk system requires building out and aggregating all the different sets of data available in the marketplace, said Pierre.

“The challenge is finding the data sources and combining them,” he explained. “The app helps the users from a simple point and click to get all the information they need to manage risk. Being able to see the risk and understand historical probability it is at your fingertips..”

Then, in the aftermath of a storm, the user can look at images, whether from a flyover or a data provider, and measure damage down to the tiles on a  rooftop.

“So you don’t have to dispatch an inspector; you can do that from your desktop.” By comparing claims across a damaged areas, an insurance company can see if the claims fall within a normal range and pay them without costly site visits by inspectors.

By subscribing to just the data needed for a particular task, a user can measure potential risks and prepare for them. For example, an insurance company interested in writing property coverage in the Midwest can query the system for hail storms over the past two years, or narrow it down to hail which was two inches or larger.

“Or they might find there were no hail storms so they can underwrite the policy. GIS can help them understand the risk they are underwriting.”

WSN is also looking at ways users can become proactive around risk. A major disaster that affects hundreds of thousand of people might mean that payments such as mortgages and credit cards are going to be late. Both insurers and emergency management organizations need to understand damage as early as possible to assign the right number of people to an area. Retailers need to understand how their business could be affected by the losses incurred by area residents. Banks could inform residents of storm-prone areas that they should load a payment app on their smartphone to prepare.

“We aim to be thought leaders,” said Pierre. “This is one of the things we have done on the Web site we are about to launch to help folks collaborate around risk and build a community.”

The WSN software is available in the cloud, installed on premises behind a company firewall, or in a hybrid solution.

About Tom Groenfeldt

I write - mostly about finance and technology, sometimes about art, occasionally about politics and the intersection of politics and economics. My work appears on and and occasionally in The American Banker and Banking Technology in London.
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