Just under a year ago, the Willis Analytics product development team began work on eNCOMPASS Online, one of the insurance industry’s first adopters of social media within a disaster assessment tool. eNCOMPASS Online steams information from sites like Twitter, YouTube and Flickr to provide instant, real-time information about major natural catastrophes.
Our trigger for development of this tool was the March 11 Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami and nuclear threat, the anniversary of which fell yesterday. Text, video and image data collected by the public using social media services proved a critical source of information in the wake of the disaster and we are sure that social media and crowdsourcing has more to offer.
How Social Media Assists in Disaster Zones
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in helping individuals, businesses, governments and emergency services to estimate the scale of a disaster and respond accordingly. As hand-held, web-enabled technology becomes ubiquitous, it is more often members of the public who are directly involved in a disaster, rather than official emergency alerts, which provide critical information about an event.
During the Haitian earthquakes, non-profit social media service Ushahidi was used by emergency responders to broadcast information relating to the disaster zone from their mobile devices. Social media also became more prominent in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill during 2010 whereby images and posts provided by the public through social media showed where oil had affected areas of the US coastline. In all cases, social media provided a better understanding of local conditions very early after an event.
Social Media and the Insurance Sector
Tools such as eNCOMPASS Online have significant benefits to insurers. Benefits include the ability to gauge true ground conditions and the extent of damage immediately after event; the ability to locate, identify and contact policy holders currently caught in a disaster area; identify claims or potential claims very early on, and mobilize and plan loss adjusting activities accordingly.
A year on, we hope that when the next major event occurs in Japan (and it will —Japan is in a significant earthquake-prone region) the re/insurance community will be prepared through the use of tools such as eNCOMPASS Online. More importantly, we as a global community will be more prepared, and potentially able to have an immediate impact. The social media tools available will help to get warnings out as fast as possible, to direct emergency workers to the most significantly impacted areas and to understand what is happening and what the results are going to be.