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Computer-enhanced satellite imagery gives insurers a clear picture of what they're facing in the wake of last month's disaster

When floods ravaged Calgary last month Swiss Re, a reinsurance firm that works with Canadian insurers, turned to satellite imagery. The shift toward this technology gives the insurance industry a new tool in reducing vulnerability amid a rise in payouts tied to severe weather events.

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Advances in satellite image definition and computer processing power now enable insurers and re-insurers create more precise maps of flood, tornado and hail zones.

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Severe weather has been a growing concern for the insurance industry for many years, said Insurance Bureau of Canada spokesman Steve Kee. The frequency and severity of natural disasters has been on the rise in Canada, and Alberta has accounted for more disaster-related claims than any other province in recent years.

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As satellite imagery better illuminates risk, insurance premiums are likely to rise, said Wayne Ross, vice president of national property claims at Aviva Canada Inc., the country’s second-largest personal and commercial insurer.

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The amount of severe weather claims insurers have covered increased tenfold in the last decade, with catastrophic losses costing more than $1-billion in both 2012 and 2011.

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Swiss Re deployed the system in Calgary during last month’s floods to provide images to its Canadian insurance partners, allowing them to see the extent of the flood damage and anticipate incoming claims. The Calgary deployment was the second on this scale following a similar response during floods that hit Central Europe earlier in June.

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