While most of the world divides the year into four seasons, in Florida, there are two; tourist season and hurricane season. For many of us, hurricane season tends to sneak up on us, and this year is no exception. With an early tropical disturbance in the Gulf, the season may be getting a jump start. Ideally, we should already be prepared for the storm we all hope never comes, but it’s not too late to get prepared now.
The State of Florida is always preparing for the day when mother nature comes knocking. The Department of Emergency Management holds regular training exercises to allow agencies to learn how to communicate better, the Department of Transportation regularly evaluates traffic and evacuation routes, and the Attorney General’s office protects Floridians against price gouging. But another entity under the State Board of the Administration does its part to make sure you are protected after the storm – the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.
Established by the Florida Legislature after Hurricane Andrew, the Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, or Cat Fund, is intended to act as a backstop against the destabilizing effects that a natural disaster can create in the insurance industry. It was all theoretical until the 2004 hurricane season when Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne all made landfall in Florida. The Cat Fund worked as intended by providing a layer of coverage to ease the stress on the insurance market, keeping premiums level and helping insurers make claim payouts quickly and efficiently.
With a ten-year lucky streak of no hurricanes making landfall in Florida and strategic investments in reinsurance, the Cat Fund, with $17 billion available, became a vehicle that could help insurers in the event of a major storm hitting Florida. Then, in 2016, Hurricane Hermine and Hurricane Matthew both made landfall, with Matthew threatening to wreak havoc on Florida’s east coast. Luckily, Matthew’s path changed, and the storm weakened. 2017 brought Hurricane Irma, which threatened a Category 5 direct hit on Miami-Dade County, which models predicted could be a $200 billion insurance loss. Again, Florida got lucky and the storm weakened and moved farther west.
But what would have happened if Florida hadn’t been so lucky? What if Matthew’s course hadn’t changed and it devastated the heart of Florida’s tourism and agriculture? The Cat Fund could have certainly helped stabilize the market for 2016, but what would have happened if Irma made its predicted direct hit in 2017, devastating Florida’s most populated area? One possible approach is for the Cat Fund to utilize a two-year model that would provide market stability in the off chance of multiple storms. Its time to think ahead.
One day, Florida’s luck will run out, and when it does, there’s no clear roadmap as to what the insurance marketplace or Florida’s economy will do. While we prepare for the potential storms of this year’s hurricane season, let’s strengthen the tools that have served us well in the past.