Delos got another mention in the press, thanks to the Press Democrat! We’re so excited to be working to help homeowners in wildfire areas everywhere.
Delos is fortunate to have some of the world’s most outstanding talent on our team, and we’re excited to highlight them in a series of posts. Today, we’re highlighting not just one individual, but a whole team of incredible scientists: Spatial Informatics Group.
Spatial Informatics Group (SIG) is an interdisciplinary think tank specializing in complex environmental geospatial problems. Their team includes dozens of PhD level academic researchers, data scientists, and geospatial analysts. These analysts are also specialists in fields such as landscape ecology and forestry, and are experts in using tools such as complex statistical analysis and data science, machine learning, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, spatial data mining, and dynamic spatial modeling.
Delos is partnered with SIG and works closely with their principal scientists to create our disaster models. These principal scientists are truly world-beating in their fields– they’re university professors who are also founders and directors of university research labs. They’ve published in the most prestigious academic journals and have have authored a long list of research papers that are frequently cited by the news media. They’ve been featured at UN Climate Change summits and conferences, and created models as a joint venture with NASA.
Besides such impressive academic achievements, these scientists also have a proven history of applying their research to industry. SIG has created models of wildfire and hurricane disaster risks for state, national, and international government agencies, NGO’s, private companies, and utilities. Among their many relevant projects is the creation of wildfire risk maps for Cal Fire and the California Public Utilities Commission.
Partnering with SIG is an enormous privilege, and their extensive experience has allowed Delos to hit the ground running in creating our models. The rest of the Delos team has been floored by the brilliant work that they’ve done and continue to do, and we feel incredibly lucky to have them on our team!
Delos has been growing! We’ve added some outstanding talent to our team, and we’re excited to highlight them individually in a series of posts. Today, we’re pleased to introduce Tom Pratt, Director of Marketing and Government Relations.
We met Tom at an Insurtech conference and he immediately recognized how beneficial our technology would be for communities like his. He saw that someone was finally solving the long standing and frustrating problem of poor wildfire modeling in insurance, after spending years personally experiencing the impact of this problem– both as a professional and as a member of these communities.
Tom is deeply experienced in insurance and passionate about civic engagement. The combination of the two has provided powerful value in his role at Delos. He’s sold billions of dollars worth of insurance throughout his career, and has also developed relationships with key decision makers in the state government. This includes the Insurance Commissioner, Cal Fire chiefs, and the California Tree Mortality Task Force Insurance Subgroup. Thus Delos was able to engage with these decision makers early, which dramatically impacted our progress, professional network, and company roadmap.
Tom realized early on that Delos is not only helping individual homeowners in California, but also helping solve a political issue. In the aftermath unexpectedly devastating wildfires, many insurers have been pulling out of large regions of California, resulting in a crisis of insurance availability and affordability. The Insurance Commissioner’s office, county supervisors, and other regional politicians have been feeling enormous pressure to propose new regulations, but this could likely result in further retreat by insurers. Our solution, on the other hand, avoids the need for these kinds of new regulations: Delos alleviates consumers’ pain while also creating a market-driven avenue for insurers to continue offering coverage in these regions.
Besides Tom having these great professional and political relationships and a deep knowledge of insurance marketing, he also has a huge heart. He loves building strong personal ties to his communities, and has served on several school district Boards of Education and on boards and commissions for a number of art organizations. We feel truly fortunate to have him on our team!
Even though the devastating and tragic wildfires of last year are no longer making news headlines, the insurance industry is continuing to pay close attention to how the disaster unfolded, and what it means for future wildfire seasons. Delos CEO Kevin Stein was invited to speak about the California wildfires at the InsurTech FUSION conference in Silicon Valley, put on by the Silicon Valley Insurance Accelerator. We often get questions about the wildfires of late 2017, so we were eager to share what we’ve learned, and how we’re building technology that we believe will make a difference in the impact from future wildfire disasters.
You can watch Kevin’s talk here: https://youtu.be/bR2gadFWTio?t=25m18s (The link jumps to the point in the video when Kevin starts his talk, which is approximately 9 minutes long.)
In his talk, he touches on the following points:
The wildfire season of 2017 led to record losses, particularly the Tubbs Fire in Northern California. Was this fire season an anomaly? Or does it represent a new normal? In order to answer this, we examined the following data:
- The left chart illustrates the number of acres burned per year, which is increasing gradually over the last few decades, including this year.
- We then looked at the data on the right, which illustrates the trend in the number of structures burned per year in CA, which occasionally spikes dramatically. But if the number of acres burned has only been gradual increasing over decades, why are we surprised by spikes in losses?
These two trends reveal a discrepancy in expectations. We then looked at where the Tubbs Fire occurred, as overlayed on the California State wildfire risk map, as shown here:
Many of the hardest hit areas were thought to be in lower risk locations.
We concluded that this discrepancy in expectations is because of the modeling. This isn’t too surprising when considering that disaster modeling is a fairly nascent science, and that wildfire modeling is even newer than hurricane modeling.
Developing better wildfire risk models will have a very real impact on how communities experience wildfire losses. By knowing where to take proactive measures to harden properties against natural disasters, we can tremendously reduce the risk of loss. Delos is excited to be advancing modeling technology in order to make this kind of difference in communities’ resilience in the face of increasing wildfire dangers.
We spent several days visiting Calaveras County, where, in 2015, the Butte Fire destroyed 475 homes and killed 2 people. Many of the county’s 44,828 residents live in rural regions of the Sierra foothills. CAL FIRE Chief Josh White gave us a tour of the area that burned, pointing out brush and tree characteristics that affected the fire, and why some homes were still standing after the fire’s onslaught.
We also learned that access to homeowners insurance has been a common frustration after the recent spike in severe wildfires. The area’s largest title company told us that home buyers’ inability to find insurance has held up deals. Real estate agents have been looking for high risk insurance options for their clients. One realtor described 2,200 homes in Arnold that have had a rash of policy cancellations, and are struggling to find insurance carriers who will sell them a new policy. At town hall events, local government officials receive pleas for help in getting insurance. A local reporter who joined us goes into further details in his news story about our visit.
Chief White described recent changes to insurance underwriting practices that he considers overly broad and conservative. The current methods can’t account for a number of proven fire-hardening techniques practiced by many homeowners and communities. His real-life experience confirmed and expanded on much of what we’d already studied about fire science, and as we drove through a variety of neighborhoods, it wasn’t hard to guess which houses are at higher risk than others. But in many cases, these dramatically different risks are all grouped into one category by insurance underwriters.
When it comes to evaluating a home’s wildfire vulnerability, it’s fortunate how much we’re able to see in a satellite or aerial image. Delos is excited to be working in parallel with CAL FIRE and the Fire Resource and Assessment Program (FRAP) to use new technology to understand more about each individual home’s risk, and how those risks change throughout different seasons. We believe that new underwriting models can better reflect changing conditions and homeowners’ efforts in reducing their risk. And then, in turn, we can incentivize actions that help all homeowners and communities be safer from increasing severe wildfires.
Our CEO was interviewed by SiliconValleyStartupsRadio. You can listen to the recording to learn about the company, extreme weather risks, and how we’re helping.
Visit the Soundcloud link to check it out!