Collecting and sharing real-time insight

When major flooding occurred in Central Europe, international insurance broker Willis used Esri’s ArcGIS Collector App to gain detailed, real-time insight into this devastating natural disaster. The company could then provide well-informed advice to its customers and strengthen its reputation as an expert on flood risk.

Case study – Insurance

ArcGIS Collector App allows more precise, location-specific data and imagery to be collected in the field

Willis can make up-to-the-minute information from the disaster zone instantly accessible to analysts back in London

The company gains better quality information, which enables it to improve its flood models and offer better advice to customers

The Challenge

Incidents of severe flooding are expected to double in frequency by 2050, thrusting more communities into danger and causing significant, additional damage to property. For insurers, this means that flood-related claims are now a considerable risk factor and a growing proportion of their accumulated, insured risk.

As a global risk advisor, Willis Group Holdings plc (Willis) provides services to insurance and reinsurance companies, to help them better understand flooding, as well as other natural catastrophes. While it analyses satellite and aerial imagery to gain insight into flood patterns, Willis also recognises the vital importance of conducting ground surveys, to identify loss-generating mechanisms in more detail.

Between May and June 2013, vast swathes of Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic were afflicted by devastating floods. Willis quickly started to prepare a team of surveyors to visit the flooded regions and collect information about flood depths, damage and the effectiveness of local flood defences. As water levels rose, losses escalated and fatalities occurred, it became clear to Willis that it would need a more effective way to ensure the accuracy of the data it collected.

“ If we hadn’t had the ArcGIS Collector App, it would have been significantly more work ”

Timothy Fewtrell – divisional director for catastrophe risk, Willis

The Solution

Willis has been using geographic information system (GIS) solutions from Esri UK for many years and places considerable importance on spatial analytics as an enabler for technical innovation and client service excellence. During the flooding crisis, it decided to employ Esri’s ArcGIS Collector App for the first time. It took the organisation just a few days to set up the mobile GIS solution to meet its survey requirements, and less than a week after the Danube burst its banks, surveyors were on route to Central Europe.

Timothy Fewtrell, divisional director for catastrophe risk at Willis, led the 2013 survey. He used the ArcGIS Collector App on his Apple iPhone to note his precise location, via GPS, record survey observations and upload photographs. All of the location-specific data collected from sites across three countries was then automatically uploaded to Esri’s cloud-based GIS platform, ArcGIS Online, where it was instantly accessible to office-based analysts in London.

“If we hadn’t had the ArcGIS Collector App, it would have been significantly more work,” says Fewtrell. “We would have had to manually link photographs with locations when we got back to the office, and the information gathered would not have been anything like as precise from a location perspective.”

“ The ArcGIS Collector App helped us make improvements to our flood model, allowing it to become seen as state-of-the-art. It helped to solidify our foothold in the industry as the preferred supplier for flood risk assessments

Timothy Fewtrell – divisional director for catastrophe risk, Willis


The use of Esri’s ArcGIS Collector App enabled Willis to collect accurate information about the 2013 flooding and make it accessible almost immediately to its analysts in offices around the world. Fewtrell believes that this ability to share real-time insight is incredibly valuable to the business. He says: “When our analysts can gain rapid visibility into what is actually happening on the ground, they can monitor risk very closely and provide well-informed advice to customers.”

Using the information gathered during the 2013 ground survey, Willis was able to develop detailed reports about the natural disaster, which were valued by customers. “We were able to show our customers that we really understood the dynamics of that particular flood incident,” Fewtrell recalls. “We could give them the detailed information they needed to help them assess damage claims more appropriately and make future policy decisions.”

The information gathered using the ArcGIS Collector App was also used by Willis to help it validate and improve its well-renowned flood risk model for Central Europe. Its model subsequently grew in accuracy, enhancing the company’s reputation and credibility in the sector. “The ArcGIS Collector App helped us make improvements to our flood model, allowing it to become seen as state-of-the-art,” Fewtrell says. “It helped to solidify our foothold in the industry as the preferred supplier for flood risk assessments.”

The 2013 flooding was undoubtedly one of Europe’s most devastating natural disasters. 25 lives were lost and the total damage done to commercial and residential properties has been estimated at €12 billion. Willis now has an extensive geospatial repository of data about where flood losses occurred in this event, the condition of flood defences at specific sites, actual water level recordings and more besides. As Fewtrell says, “all this information has significant value as intellectual property for Willis and will have many different uses for years to come.”

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