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US science academy and global reinsurance broker spark

WASHINGTON and LONDON On the heels of a summit on managing extreme events held last month in Washington, D.C., leaders of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Willis Research Network, part of Willis Group Holdings, a global insurance and reinsurance broker headquartered in the U.K., pledged to continue exploring activities aimed at increasing the physical and financial resilience of populations to extreme events.

Although 2011 has been a notable year for the high human and financial costs of disasters in many parts of the world, plans to hold the summit began late last year when leaders of the National Academy of Sciences and Willis recognized that governments, businesses, universities, and societies need to work together to better anticipate and cope with extreme events.

In September, more than 100 renowned researchers, federal agency heads, emergency-management officials, insurance and reinsurance leaders, and other experts from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors gathered in Washington for three days to discuss how to better prepare for and recover from natural disasters, terrorist attacks, financial system breakdowns, energy and food shortages, and other extreme events, including those that may be triggered by climate change.

"In this age of globalization and interdependence of markets, it has become clear that no one sector of society is able on its own to best anticipate and respond to extreme events," said Ralph J. Cicerone, president, National Academy of Sciences. "We need to leverage our resources and work collaboratively, which is why we are pleased to partner with Willis Research Network in an effort to bring together different sectors to share knowledge and find common ground, with the overall goal of improving our understanding of extreme events and effectiveness in confronting them."

"Managing extreme financial, environmental, and security risks lies at the heart of ensuring the resilience of our institutions, markets, and society," said Rowan Douglas, CEO, Global Analytics, Willis Re, and chairman, Willis Research Network. "Resilience provides the foundation for confidence, investment, and sustainable growth. These common challenges unify public, private, and academic sectors with a unique opportunity for shared alignment and collaboration."

"We all rely upon science, analysis, and modeling to overcome these challenges and we are privileged to work with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to bring leaders of science, government, reinsurance, and other sectors together, combining expertise and resources in a practical way," Douglas added. "Meanwhile, society relies upon the unifying concept of insurance, underpinned by science, to manage and share the cost of extreme events at local and global scales via public and private mechanisms; it is the ultimate community product."

Participants at the September summit identified and discussed six primary elements of managing extreme events:

  • Improving communication and education about extreme events
  • Building public-private-academic partnerships for managing extreme events
  • Sharing and providing access to information
  • Aligning exposure, risk, premium, and subsidy more closely in disaster insurance programs
  • Reforming institutions
  • Developing an economic model to evaluate resilience to extreme events

In response to the summit, some participants are expected to form work groups that will forward concepts for further investigation in order to develop activities that could increase resilience to extreme events.

Cicerone and Douglas led the summit of leaders, including the following speakers:

  • John P. Holdren, assistant to President Obama for Science and Technology, and director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Jane Lubchenco, undersecretary for oceans and commerce, U.S. Department of Commerce, and administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Marcia K. McNutt, director, U.S. Geological Survey
  • W. Craig Fugate, administrator, U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • Admiral Thad W. Allen, U.S. Coast Guard (retired), and senior fellow, Rand Corp.
  • Jack Dangermond, founder and president, Environmental Systems Research Institute
  • Trevor Maynard, head of exposure management and reinsurance, Lloyd's
  • Rodolfo Wehrhahn, senior insurance specialist, International Monetary Fund
  • Louis Gritzo, vice president of research, FM Global
  • Andrew Hitchcox, chief risk officer, RJ Kiln Group
  • Jamie France, loss mitigation manager, State Farm Insurance
  • Stephen Weinstein, general counsel, RennaissanceRe
  • Ken Sensor, senior vice president, Global Security, Aviation, and Travel, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
  • Daniel Gerstein, deputy undersecretary, Science and Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Gus Felix, head of operational risk, Citigroup
  • Frdric Sgard, Global Science Forum, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
  • Greg Holland, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Herman "Dutch" B. Leonard, George F. Baker Jr. Professor of Public Management, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Kerry A. Emanuel, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • M. Granger Morgan, Lord Chair Professor of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Major General William Grisoli, Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations, United States Army Corps of Engineers

The summit was sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, Willis Research Network, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Environmental Systems Research Institute.


Contact: William Kearney
National Academy of Sciences

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