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Insurance industry funds research into catastrophes

Press release issued: 13 September 2006

Bristol University is part of a new collaboration between academia and the insurance industry that will forecast the risk from climate and extreme events.


Bristol University is part of a new collaboration between academia and the insurance industry that will forecast the risk from climate and extreme events.  The Willis Research Network (WRN) has been created by global insurance broker, Willis Group Holdings. 

This unique network, comprising seven leading university research groups focusing on weather and environmental modelling, will produce practical research which will ensure companies benefit from state-of-the-art interpretation of catastrophic risks and the financial mechanisms with which they can counter these threats.

Bristol University’s role, using advanced remote sensing and other analytical techniques pioneered by the School of Geographical Sciences and the Department of Civil Engineering, led by Professor Paul Bates and Professor Colin Taylor, will be to produce a highly detailed predictor of flood risk – especially for the low-lying east of England towns currently threatened by rising sea levels and future North Sea storm surges.

WRN will be run under the auspices of Willis’ Analytics & Solutions division, which provides analysis and advises companies on the financial impact of natural catastrophes such as hurricanes, storms, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis and also arranges (re)insurance and other related risk transfer solutions.

Willis’ UK group will contain expertise across meteorology, geography, engineering, architecture and the earth sciences and includes the Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling, part of the world’s leading department of meteorology at Reading University, the Centre for Risk in the Built Environment at Cambridge, as well as key institutions at Imperial College, Durham, Exeter and City University.

Rowan Douglas, executive director of Willis and chairman of the WRN, explained: “The primary purpose of the research network is to better predict the frequency, severity and costs of future catastrophes world-wide.”

“The insurance market is the ultimate ‘consumer product’ – as it is the mechanism through which international society and the economy share the costs and burdens of severe catastrophes.”

Mr Douglas added: “The UK is a world centre for environmental and climate sciences but no one was pulling together these pre-eminent but separate groups. We hope the various collaborative projects will create a cohesive and far more accurate picture of climate and extreme events and their effects on our infrastructure.”

Paul Bates, Professor of Hydrology, commenting on the collaboration, said: “Flooding currently costs the UK about £1 billion each year and these costs may change dramatically in the future as a result of sea level rise and increased storminess.  The partnership with Willis is a fantastic opportunity for the University to use its expertise in flood risk analysis to help insurance companies control their exposure to flood claims while still providing cover for homeowners and businesses.”

The UK research group will form part of a wider network of Willis-funded research at universities in Asia, Europe and the Americas, and the total number of research scientists at these institutions will be more than 1,000.

More information can be found at

Further information

Please contact Joanne Fryer for further information.
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