2017 Disasters

January 22, 2018

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was busy in 2017 as it supported 59 major disaster declarations and 16 emergency declarations, a year during which unprecedented disasters affected more than 25 million Americans, or almost 8 percent of the U.S. population.

In its year-end review, FEMA said it was a record busy year for FEMA employees and for state and local emergency responders across the country, as well for the federal flood insurance program, which FEMA manages. It was a year when the federal government authorized more than $7 billion in disaster funds.

The 2017 hurricane season produced 17 named storms, 10 of which became hurricanes (six of them major hurricanes) — including Harvey and Irma, the first two major hurricanes to hit the continental U.S. in 12 years.

In response to the hurricanes, 48 states and the District of Columbia assisted with response and recovery operations in Texas, Florida and the U.S. territories in the Caribbean, through emergency management assistance compacts, according to FEMA.

2017 was also historic for wildfires across the western states that included two of the most devastating to ever impact California: the Tubbs fire in the northern counties, and the Thomas fire, which gained the distinction of becoming the largest wildfire in modern California history.

The historic disasters of 2017 created one of the busiest years for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to date — the NFIP has paid out more than $8 billion in flood insurance claims thus far.

During the hurricane season, NFIP streamlined the flood insurance claims process for policyholders by directing private insurance carriers to make advance payments of up to $20,000 on flood claims and to waive the initial proof of loss requirement in many cases. The year 2017 was also when FEMA entered into a reinsurance agreement with 25 reinsurance companies, transferring risk to the private sector. FEMA says this allowed the program to recover $1.042 billion to pay NFIP claims when the losses of Hurricane Harvey exceeded $8 billion.

It was a busy, and costly year, for the insurance industry, too, which is set to pay record claims of $135 billion from natural catastrophes in 2017, according to a report published by Munich Re. Overall economic losses (which include uninsured losses), totaled $330 billion, the second-highest figure ever recorded for natural disasters, Munich Re said.