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The Willis Towers Watson Research Network Newsletter




Issue No. 8 – Autumn 2018



Welcome to the Autumn 2018 newsletter for the Willis Towers Watson Research Network (WRN).This quarterly update aims to provide an insight into our latest research and activities.


The ongoing work on tsunami disaster risk reduction in Japan, which includes the WRN funded research projects with Professor Fumihiko Imamura, Dr Anawat Suppasri, and Dr Kwanchai Pakoksung, was recently lauded from the top levels of Japanese government. In July 2018, the team won an incentive award from ex-Japanese Prime Minister Yashiro Nakasone. This is high praise indeed, and exemplifies the position of our WRN fellows as leaders in developing new research in disaster risk management, which can be applicable to the insurance industry and public sector planning alike.


Our current work with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and Exeter University strives to improve the understanding of these extreme weather events in relation to the broader climate conditions, and this newsletter features some of this work.


Looking over at other wide range of topics, whether natural hazards or so-called “emerging risks”, the WRN always aims to go beyond the easy headlines, investigating rigorously the data and gathering expert opinions, to understand the risk frequencies, severities, variabilities and trends better, and support better risk management decisions.


Long after the hurricanes have gone, the scientists and the academics will carry on with their painstaking research, away from the limelight of the media, but no doubt improving our understanding for years to come.


As always, please do feel free to contact us for any  feedback or queries.






The WRN’s partners from Tohoku University earn prestigious award from Japanese Prime Minister


The ongoing work on tsunami disaster risk reduction in Japan, which includes the WRN funded research projects with Professor Fumihiko Imamura, Dr Anawat Suppasri, and Dr Kwanchai Pakoksung, was recently lauded from the top levels of Japanese government. In July 2018, the team won an incentive award from ex-Japanese Prime Minister Yashiro Nakasone. This is high praise indeed, and exemplifies the position of our WRN fellows as leaders in developing new research in disaster risk management, which can be applicable to the insurance industry and public sector planning alike.






Volcanic Ash Impact to Aviation


The presence of volcanic ash in the atmosphere is, and has always been, a big threat and a source of concern to aviation, leading to initiatives such as the creation of the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centers (VAACs) by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the 1990’s. The VAACs report to relevant aviation authorities on the presence of volcanic ash particles in the atmosphere, for air traffic management. For many years, the scientific community of volcanology has been researching and trying to understand the physical characteristics and dynamics of tephra dispersal processes and ash fall-out as well as volcanic gases transport. Highly sophisticated tools have been developed by international research institutions to simulate the evolution of volcanic ash clouds. The WRN is looking into modelling techniques and pragmatic solutions for our clients. More on this in the next newsletter.


Figure 1: World Airline Traffic (24-hour time lapse)






Hurricane season is well underway…


After an early start, we have had an unusual lull through August. Not a single hurricane has formed in the North Atlantic ocean during August this year; a rare event having happened only seven other times since the satellite era began giving us reliable detection of storms and their intensity in 1966. A quiet season was predicted by most of the major seasonal forecasting centres as summarised here, and while August followed suit with only two named storms (Debbie and Ernesto, both remaining below the 73mph maximum sustained winds required to attain hurricane strength), it wasn’t until the final day of the month, that Florence was named as a tropical disturbance originating off the west coast of Africa.


Figure 2: Hurricane FLORENCE’s eye was clearly visible on the U.S. radar network as it

approached the Carolinas. Outer rain bands reached across a broad swathe of the U.S. East

coast. Source: NOAA/NCAR


This storm developed over a long track of warm sea surface temperatures providing the energy to intensify and a fortnight later made landfall as a hurricane on the North Carolina coast. This has been the most dangerous hurricane the region has faced in a long time, from a combination of heavy rains and high storm surge flooding, on top of high winds, leaving the insurance industry on high alert. At the same time September has also seen hurricanes affecting Hawaii in a much more active Pacific Ocean. The Northwest Pacific especially has seen record-breaking levels of activity and cyclone development.


Our WRN partners at National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have helped in our preparations by supplementing our eVENT Response bulletins on the official National Hurricane Center forecasts with more detailed technical information about the development of the storm as it threatened land. Throughout the hurricane season these WRN commentariesare produced for any storm threatening the U.S. coastline, by our WRN Tropical Cyclone expert Dr. James Done.


New research from NCAR also aims to provide a set of historical tropical cyclone wind footprints to provide an alternative view of the impacts of past major loss-making tropical cyclones around the world. This dataset is currently going through a series of iterations to validate the outputs against available observations, with a release of initial consultancy and advisory services planned in the coming months.






WRN re-joins the Global Earthquake Model (GEM) as an advisor


Since its creation ten years ago, the GEM Foundation has been developing open source tools to help public and private entities assess and quantify earthquake risk. With a mosaic of earthquake hazard models covering the entire globe, GEM are now about to release the GEM Global Risk Model. Their extensive work and collaboration with private, governmental and scientific institutions worldwide has made them a point of reference in the field of earthquake risk assessment.


Willis Towers Watson was one of the original founding members of this ground-breaking initiative (together with Munich Re and others in the (re)insurance industry), and we are proud to announce that we have now re-engaged with GEM as an advisor member. We believe that supporting initiatives such as GEM not only puts us at the forefront of applied research for earthquake hazard, but also helps us provide a customised and more bespoke view or risk, as well as reflecting Willis Towers Watson’s commitment with social responsibility. The WRN team looks forward to this renewed collaboration with GEM.






Parametric solutions to manage volcanic emergencies and recovery measures



Funded by the World Bank, Willis Towers Watson is currently leading a Feasibility Study on the development of parametric solutions to help countries in need of rapid access to finance for pre and post eruption management efforts. The WRN attended the Cities on Volcanoes 10 conference this past September in Napoli, to learn about the relevant research and to meet the scientists involved in the project. Also, the WRN co-authored the two talks and poster presentation discussed in the three corresponding sessions.






Willis Re team visit the University of Exeter



As part of our ongoing relationships with our WRN partners, we tend to spend time visiting or hosting most of the researchers at least once a year. These face-to-face meetings are essential for maintaining a strong engagement with the research projects and aligning academic projects to our business needs. With so many commitments on everyone’s time, it can be hard to find the opportunities to bring together our Willis Towers Watson experts and our partners, but it is always worthwhile and beneficial to spend a few hours focussing on getting up to speed on the latest research and coming up with new ideas for application.


Figure 3: Historical wind fields for major European storms


Our latest interaction after over 10 years of collaboration with Exeter University was our trip this September which was brought together by Professor David Stephenson and Dr. Ben Youngman in the Mathematics Department, and Karl Jones, Head of Willis Re International Catastrophe Analytics, Dr. Ioana Dima-West, Head of Model Research and Evaluation, Dr. Sam Phibbs, Atmospheric Scientist also in the Model Research and Evaluation team, and Geoffrey Saville, Senior Research Manager for the WRN. Current topics were discussed in the context of developing new applications for the geostatistical tools that came out from our collaboration, which are potentially useful for model evaluation work as we go into this year’s European winter storm season. The current phase of the research builds on the project that won the Lloyd’s Science of Risk Prize for 2016, and augments our capabilities in developing the Willis Re View of Risk for European windstorm.










For more information on any of the research mentioned above or other WRN projects, please get in touch with our team.



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Other Upcoming Events


Willis Towers Watson Research Network (WRN) Autumn Seminar
6th November, London, U.K.


Insurance Innovators Summit 2018
5thto 6thNovember 2018, London, U.K.


Insurance & Climate Risk EMEA
3th December 2018, London, U.K.


Recent Events


The British Insurance Awards 2018
4th July 2018 London, UK.


Insurance 2025
4th September 2018,London, U.K.


Tech & Innovation Awards
13thSeptember 2018, London, U.K.


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