Winter is coming and companies must prepare for more extreme weather

As windstorms hit Europe again, companies must do more to prepare for the next extreme weather season

Europe has been hit by the first major windstorm of the winter. Storm Ciarán hit northwestern Europe in late October and early November, causing widespread damage across Ireland, the UK, France, Benelux, Germany and elsewhere and claiming the lives of 21 people. According to Moody’s RMS, the insured losses are likely to fall between €900m and €1.5bn.

Storm Ciarán follows an eventful summer of extreme weather in which two floods stood out in the stream of droughts, thunderstorms and heavy rains. Slovenia made the news in August. More than a month’s worth of rain fell in one day and the government has estimated that the damage to homes, infrastructure and businesses will cost more than €5bn.

This comes just months after the wealthy industrial Italian region of Emilia Romagna experienced six months of rainfall in just 36 hours. More than 43 towns and villages were flooded, 15 people lost their lives and provisional cost of the damage amounted to €7bn. The region is also home to many businesses and industries, many of which were caught out by the severity of the storm.

At times like these, restoration companies such as BELFOR play a critical role in helping these companies to recover and return to business operations as quickly as possible. But companies can also help to limit the disruption they face by devising, implementing and practicing an emergency plan.

Unlike traditional property insurance, the priority is not raising funds to finance the recovery. The biggest challenge is getting access to restoration services such as emergency equipment and skilled technicians. Consequently, it is restoration services such as BELFOR that are typically the first to receive a call in these situations.

Since the beginning of May with the first flood in Italy, BELFOR has worked around the clock with more than 200 technicians to enable damaged companies to resume activity as soon as possible. The company has been able to call on its International Major & Complex Project Team and send workers from other BELFOR locations like China that has supplied extra manpower and equipment to support the Italian team.

Machinery restoration specialists were sent from BELFOR DeHaDe (Germany) along with industrial dehumidifiers and new mobile electronics restoration trucks. BELFOR also set up a logistics centre in the Italian town of Forli to handle the distribution of manpower and materials to construction sites within the affected area and to act as an additional base for electronic remediation efforts in the region.

After natural catastrophes, the demand for restoration services far outstrips the supply. BELFOR has addressed the demand for services by establishing RED ALERT, an emergency response service that prioritises clients at such times as the immediate aftermath of a flood.

Matthias Beck, head of Insurance and Risk Management at WÜRTH Group, German industrial parts distributor and a RED ALERT client, said: “When I received the call I could immediately reassure my Italian colleagues: BELFOR is coming, they have the resources, we know each other well. We are a RED ALERT client and therefore we have priority status.”

The status of being a RED ALERT client can also be reassuring for a company’s insurers. Ute Roch, Head of Insurance at German pharmacy chain Rossmann said: “After the heavy rain 2021, many damage reports arrived from our stores. Internally, we were able to show the organisation: RED ALERT takes action, we are prepared, we receive help. It’s good to have BELFOR as a partner.”

Winter storms have been a big factor in Switzerland’s natural catastrophe history. Switzerland may have escaped Storm Ciaran but cyclone Lothar which struck Europe in December 1999 claimed 29 lives in Switzerland and caused €15bn in damages across Europe and $1.8bn in Switzerland alone.

These storms have caused extensive damage to Swiss forests – Lothar resulted in the felling of 13.8 million m3, equivalent to three times the normal annual harvest. But windstorms have also accounted for a third of total property losses resulting from natural hazards since 1950.

And with continuing population growth, economic development and urban sprawl leading to more buildings in exposed areas, these losses could increase.

Therefore it is critical that companies adequately prepare – fortunately this message is resonating.

Daniele Maggioni, RED ALERT product manager of BELFOR in Italy, said: “It is a lesson that many other Italian companies are learning. At BELFOR we are receiving many more enquiries about our priority assistance programmes while a large number of companies want to take part in our training programmes to be better prepared for the next damage due to extreme weather or fire or pollution damage”.

Hopefully it will not take another extreme weather event for other European companies to revise their response plans in order to answer the fundamental questions – how can we ensure that we do not have to wait to secure the vital resources needed to get back to business?

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