Insurance companies provide disaster data to local governments, volunteers

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Volunteers help clean a house in Marumori, Miyagi Prefecture, in October 2019 after Typhoon No. 19 brought record-breaking rainfall to eastern Japan.

Major nonlife insurance companies have started to provide disaster data to local governments and volunteers, in a bid to help them prepare and respond more effectively to calamities.

The use of artificial intelligence and satellites has made it easier to collect and analyze information on disasters, and nonlife insurance companies want to utilize the data they have to prepare for large disasters, which have occurred more frequently in recent years.

Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co. provided data on the damage incurred by an earthquake in late January to the Japan Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, a nonprofit organization that connects volunteer support groups. The quake measured upper five on the Japanese intensity scale in Oita and Miyazaki prefectures.

It was the first time such information had been provided under the agreement concluded between the two parties, in which Tokio Marine sends data to municipalities in affected areas free of charge.

People’s awareness of disaster prevention and response has increased since the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, with hundreds of thousands of volunteers now flocking to affected areas after major disasters occur.

So far, volunteers’ decisions on where to go have been fundamentally based on news coverage. Volunteers enter a municipality where the damage is expected to be significant, and help out under the direction of a relevant organization.

However, the scale of recent disasters has been extensive, making it difficult to decide where to go.

Nonlife insurance companies use data on the damage caused by disasters to assess insurance payments, and have determined that appropriate information will support volunteer activities.

Tokio Marine envisions providing an analysis of satellite images and information on what support is needed.

“If volunteers can quickly get a handle on the state of a disaster, it becomes easier for them to respond,” a Tokio Marine official said.

There are also moves to help local governments map out disaster measures. Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co. uses AI to analyze such information as weather and positioning data to identify locations where people are likely to get stuck at a time of disaster.

It has started verification tests to indicate these locations on maps. Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance aims to forecast abnormal weather conditions and help local governments formulate evacuation plans effectively.

Sompo Japan Insurance Inc. is working on a service to detect signs of disasters. Using sensors, the company observes vibrations and tilting underground, analyzes changes in such data, and provides the information to local governments. It aims to prevent damage from disasters like the mudslide that occurred in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, last summer.

According to four major nonlife insurance companies, their reserve funds for insurance payments have shrunk due to repeated major disasters in recent years. Enhanced disaster preparedness and better responses by local governments will eventually help reduce the payouts these companies need to make.

“The fostering of disaster specialists at local governments is lagging throughout the nation,” said Tadahide Ui, a professor emeritus at Hokkaido University. “The use of private-sector data, including digital data, will certainly become more important in this regard.”