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Satellite survey of Elbe flood helps Swiss Re insure for disaster

One of the worst disasters to hit Europe in the last decade has served as a case study to investigate how satellite images can improve insurance risk modelling. Following the project's end, reinsurance giant Swiss Re has added Earth Observation products to its comprehensive catastrophe database for the first time.

The three-week flooding of the Elbe River in August 2002 saw water levels reach 150-year highs across parts of Central and Eastern Europe. Numerous urban centres including Dresden and Prague were inundated and the resulting insurance claims were in the multi-million Euro range.

The disaster highlighted the need for enhanced river flood modelling, and with dramatic satellite images acquired during the event, led to interest in the view from above provided by Earth Observation satellites to document flood events and better assess future flood danger.

As part of an ESA Earth Observation Market Development project commencing in 2002, this catastrophic event was used as the basis of an sample exploratory service targeting the insurance sector, with two Earth Observation service companies - SERTIT in Strasbourg, France and VISTA in Munich, Germany - delivering products and services for evaluation by Swiss Re, the number two in global re-insurance.

It is common knowledge the world can be a risky place: the insurance industry has to judge precisely how risky, in order to set appropriate prices for its policies.

Accurately assessing the likelihood of household accidents or individual fires is comparatively simple. The challenge comes in setting pricing for major natural catastrophes. These disasters may take place frequently on a global basis, but occur extremely rarely within a single locality although they cause great damage when they do, enough to potentially ruin any single direct insurance company.

That is where reinsurance firms comes in: they basically sell insurance to the insurers, taking on responsibili
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Contact: Mariangela D'Acunto
mariangela.dacunto@esa.int
39-06-941-80-856
European Space Agency
26-Oct-2005


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