Geospatial data in the spotlight for Irma

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The proliferation and improvement of satellite and aerial photography has led to a major increase in the amount of geospatial data insurers have consumed over the past several years. The opportunity wasn't lost on Airbus, which lauched an aerial imagery services division in May. That company uses a range of aircraft, including manned planes, drones and satellites, to get data for commercial use.

"There's already been manned aircraft services for insurance," says Jesse Kallman, president of Airbus Aerials, who has been working in the sector for more than a decade and worked with insurance companies in a previous job at Airware. "What's changing is the ability to use different tools. Where manned aircraft can't cover enough area, satellite can; where it may not be enough data or resolution, drones come in."

For Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Airbus is pledging to donate much of its geospatial data on the affected regions to the insurance industry. The goal is to help insurance companies prioritize the hardest hit areas, homes and businesses and efficiently deploy on-site adjusters, the company says. More granular data can be accessed if the insurer wants to enter a relationship with the company.

"We worked to donate a lot of the data we had and then we worked with several carriers who needed specific collections" for Harvey, Kallman explains. "If there were two to three targeted areas where the damage is worse we could use the higher-level drone data."

One company taking advantage of geospatial advances, but not currently with Airbus, is Nephila Advisors, which deals in catastrophe bonds and reinsurance risk, including in Florida. Nephila was an early-stage advisor to Cape Analytics, an insurtech that runs analytics on geospatial data for use in the underwriting process. Barney Schauble, Nephila Advisors managing principal, says that the reason Cape appealed so much to his company was that regularly updated imagery can provide a valuable check on self-reported data.

"You can say, 'Here's a portfolio, what is the level of accuracy of information in that portfolio. Let's see how well the imagery lines up with the reported or recorded information,'" he explains. And as a reinsurer, "if you're looking at insurance companies, you can see who's more accurate and who's not."

Irma is going to test how well insurers have priced risk, Schauble says, and the supplemental data from geospatial sources can help carriers lay the groundwork.

"Florida is the biggest intersection of value and peril on earth," he explains. "That's one of the things Cape and others can help with. Someone may have purchased a house 15 years ago and it was a certain price, and it didn't have solar panels and a pool and a glass enclosure in the back. Did the insurance company know that? The live dynamic updating is crucial."

For properties that do take a hit, geospatial imagery will help insurers recognize faster what characteristics led to what damage, Schauble adds.

"One of the difficulties [in modeling] is that you don't get a lot of observances. A lot of information is theoretical, what you thought was going to happen with these characteristics," he says. "So there's a lot of application for before and after imagery. These buildings that disappeared have these characteristic. There will certainly be a wealth of information generated out of this event."

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