ICEYE’s Lathrope: Satellite imaging “revolutionising” industry response amid devastating 2023 wildfires

In a year characterised by frequent and severe natural disasters, 2023 has seen an unprecedented integration of satellite imaging capabilities into the disaster response mechanisms of insurers.

In a recent interview with The Insurer TV, Stephen Lathrope, senior vice president, solutions at ICEYE – a key player in this technological revolution – detailed how these advancements have reshaped the industry.

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2023 marked the country's worst year on record for billion-dollar disaster events, while Swiss Re in a recent report said insured losses will top $100bn for the fourth consecutive year.

High-profile catastrophes such as Hurricane Idalia, the Maui wildfire and significant flooding events in Libya and Slovenia epitomised a global trend of escalating natural disasters.

“The industry doesn’t need more evidence that this situation is going to get worse,” said Lathrope. “I think the breakthrough that we've observed is that the industry has moved from observing those trends, and being aware of new technology and new data sources, and moved beyond experimentation, and really are getting into adoption.”

Lathrope said this shift from awareness to adoption within the industry has seen companies in the US, Australia, Asia Pacific and Europe engage with Earth observation technologies.

These moves represent a significant step beyond theory and experimentation, reflecting a growing reliance on data-driven insights for disaster management.

ICEYE's pioneering wildfire insights solution

A highlight of 2023 was the launch of ICEYE's wildfire insights solution. This industry-first innovation enabled insurers to track wildfires in real time, offering valuable insights even in conditions where traditional methods proved ineffective.

The technology's adoption in the US and Australia, including a governmental contract in the latter, marked a significant milestone in disaster response capabilities.

“Wildfire is such a difficult peril to deal with on the ground, because you just can't get close,” Lathrope explained.

“So, although devastating events, for ICEYE it's also a really strong opportunity to apply what we've got to help our customers. We can see day or night, because we don't need daylight. We can see through clouds, we can see through smoke, which is pivotal. And we can observe what's happening, while the fire's burning, so that our customers can direct their assistance – whether they are insurance company customers or government customers.”

Expanding the scope of disaster response

As 2023 draws to a close, the application of satellite technology within the insurance industry is poised to expand further. Lathrope outlined plans to extend coverage to more countries, launch additional satellites for enhanced data collection, and develop new products for wind, earthquake and tsunami monitoring.

“I'm afraid, you can be sure, one will happen at some point, so we want to be there to help,” he said.

Lathrope also spoke about how satellite technology can be used to help accelerate the implementation of public-private partnerships.